Thank You - Thank You - Thank You. Expressing Gratitude

Expressing Gratitude
Task Force 5 COVID-19 Response Assignment (2020)

One of my patients recently informed me that November is the National Month of Gratitude.  This makes sense given the date of our Thanksgiving Holiday.  It reminded me of some basic mannerisms and courtesies associated with general civility but also within the context of professional social work.    Patients often express gratitude for the care they receive at my clinic.  Their topics of discussion are typically too delicate to share with family and friends.  Many feel socially isolated or disenfranchised to openly discuss such sensitive and personal matters.  Similarly, I try to remain grateful to my patients for inviting me to discuss their private thoughts and feelings.

I am incredibly grateful for my support staff – without whom I would be paralyzed in comparison to my output.  I am definitely grateful to my family and friends for always being there.  I have to be grateful for my life:  every day I wake up to routine physical exercise, ride my bike to work, meet with patients and care teams to solve complex puzzles, ride back home in the evening to a surprise party (even the dog is excited to see me!). 

I get it !  Things can’t ALL be rainbows and unicorns.  I recently attended a zoom CE session where the ever smiling and zealously optimistic host was eternally grateful for having the opportunity to share with like-minded professionals.  How can you smile all the time in the face of presenting pandemic death tolls?  Should I still be grateful when I feel things seem this unbalanced?  

In 2020, at the end of my pandemic response mission for the military, I, along with my fellow service members, were compelled to conduct health screening interviews.  Our specific mission was to facilitate electronic communication between hospitalized patients and loved ones in the height of New York City’s Covid-19 experience.  Hospital visits were prohibited; many “virtual” visits turned out to be the last time the patient was seen or directly spoken to by a relative.  Palliative social work was not something I had ever done before.  This was all VERY new to me.  

My end-of-mission interviewer asked me questions about psychological trauma.  I recalled how humble I felt, personally, when my patients and patients’ families thanked me for helping them.  One specific family came to mind, they had multiple participants during a “goodbye” virtual visit, primarily spoken in Spanish.  The memory is vivid and still brings a visceral response. 

Hearing prayers in Spanish is a different kind of beautiful.  It is as if the prayers ascend straight to the heavens!  As the virtual visit concluded, the family asked me to turn the communication device around so they could see me on screen and to express their gratitude.  Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) made it impossible to see my face completely.  This did not stop the 15 or so family members as they began a chorus of “gracias” so overwhelming, that I needed to take a minute to maintain my composure.  My role is to be there for the patients and family, and not to meet my own needs.  The human connection was difficult to overcome.  I made the most of it by sharing the story with hospital staff as a means to spread the word of this family’s appreciation.  My own feelings were too personal to share during my end of tour exit interview.           

Finally, my end-of-mission interviewer asked if I was “emotionally” affected by all the suffering I had seen in New York.  “Of course,” I said, “it upsets me to see so many Americans suffering and lamenting like that.  But if anything like this ever happens again – don’t make someone else go through this … you have to send me!”  That was my ego talking.  Of course others can and do this work, likely with even more experience and professionalism. 

In a way that is difficult for me to explain, I am grateful to have been there.  I am grateful to have served my country.  I am grateful to those who wanted to be there and couldn’t because I was there instead.  I occupied a space they would have otherwise occupied, and did the things they would have otherwise done.  I am grateful to you, the reader, consuming my work (or tolerating it …).  Please know that I remain humble and grateful this year and also looking forward to developing my News Year’s resolutions for 2024.

Case-in-point … Level Up:

On my run today, I noticed a hawk circling over me.  I run, almost daily, as part of my fitness requirement to remain eligible to serve.  Strike that.  I am grateful for my health and a place to run, surrounded by trees, fresh air, and a hawk, flying overhead, to keep me company.  

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