When PPE stands for Preventing Portrayal of Emotions
Due to the necessity of wearing personal protective equipment as routine uniform during the COVID pandemic, the only visual aspect of our identity that parents see is our name badge. Although our eyes are visible, the physical barrier of visors, goggles and masks create an obstruction for parents of preterm infants to see our emotions, empathy and feelings. It is our ability to interpret, display and respond to emotions that cements our nursing practice. Our caring hands can no longer extend for greetings or be placed on shoulders to deliver a gentle touch to inform those that we are here and we understand. Our non-verbal communication has been diminished when we obstruct our mouths, faces and reduce touch to convey emotion or connection. The connection and touch is what parents remember from the point of admission and throughout the roller-coaster journey in the neonatal world. The hustle and bustle of the gowns and aprons are drowning out the monitors and natural neonatal sounds that we have learnt to live with and use as our daily backing track. As the ambient environment maintains it’s neonatal tune, new PPE measures are impacting on our verbal communication with reduced audible clatters as voices are muffled and hushed by the 3 play masks or restricted by the sealed ventilation device on the enhanced airway protection. We are discovering our reliance on lip reading is evident more now than we assumed we had. When the most common phrase in the units was “does anyone have the keys”, this has been replaced with frustrated tones of “can you repeat that please”. As we draw in air to repeat the request our breath reminds us how times have changed and how a return to normality seems unlikely within our generation. Just as the nursing hat and waist bands were once the pinnacle of nurses uniform, this generation will have face mask fittings before sizing up for uniforms- the focus will be on protection of ourselves rather than caring for others. While this vision seems to be our direction- the art of nursing will change along with the times and nurses will continue to care for patients while leading through the power of prevention and education. We need to hone our skills when communication is hindered to ensure we develop better skills to communicate with each other and those in our care. As we understand the changes ahead and how to map out the neonatal pathway through COVID-19, we need to ensure that as a community of neonatal nurses and midwives that we do not let the impact impair our ability to care or portray that emotion to parents when they may feel alone and scared at a vulnerable stage of their parenthood. We need to ensure that COVID-19 has the smallest impact on neonatal care.