What It’s Like to Help People Recover From Coronavirus at Home

In our What It’s Like series, we speak with people from a range of professions about how life has changed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. For this installment, we spoke with Aveline Dowling, a home health occupational therapist (O.T.) in New Jersey.

Dowling has practiced O.T. for 13 years and worked in home health for the past four years. Since mid-April, she has been helping many people recover from the coronavirus in their homes. In a time when people are still broadly encouraged to keep their distance from others—or, at the very least, socialize outside only—Dowling explains what it’s like going into multiple homes per day to work with her patients. She also explains the challenges she’s seen people face after long fights with COVID-19 and the challenges she’s faced in her own life during this time. (This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)

SELF: Why did you decide to become an O.T., and specifically a home health O.T.?

Aveline Dowling: I became an occupational therapist because it is about treating patients as a whole. I help people do the things they want and need to do. An O.T. may work in a variety of settings. I worked at hospitals, acute, and subacute rehab, but felt something was missing. I was burnt out working at these settings. Then I tried home health and I loved it. The flexibility of the work hours is also important because I have three young children.

I find home health really meaningful. I go into patients’ homes and help them achieve seemingly simple goals that have profound impacts on their lives. Sometimes it’s being able to shower on their own. Little things like a special can opener or writing aid can make a big difference.

What was an average day like for you as a home health O.T. before the pandemic?

I would see an average of six patients a day for 45 minutes each. I make my own schedule, which I love.

The patients I typically see are those coming from hospitals, or those discharged from rehab to home. I work with patients with different diagnoses, from orthopedic to neurological to cardiopulmonary, and many people who are recovering from a long hospital stay.

I started noticing changes in my work environment toward the end of March. The COVID-19 spread throughout New Jersey was rapidly increasing.

What were the initial changes in your work like?

The first noticeable change was that our census was low, meaning we were getting fewer and fewer patients referred to us. This was because elective surgeries were canceled, and normally we get a lot of those orthopedic patients. Since March, we don’t get those anymore, unless it’s from an emergency surgery.

But then in mid-April, I started getting referrals to treat people who had recovered from COVID-19. A lot of these patients had the coronavirus and had been in the hospital, or maybe stayed in a rehab center before coming home.

By the time a patient comes home and is referred to me, they are usually at least at a level where they only need supervision or minimum assistance. They’re doing a lot better. As a home health O.T., we are kind of the final step in the process.

What are the main things you’ve noticed about treating patients who have recovered from COVID-19?

The COVID-19-recovered patients I work with mostly have pulmonary issues. COVID-19 really, really affects a person’s breathing and lungs. A lot of these patients have lost so much of their endurance. This is especially true if they’ve had a longer hospital stay, came off a ventilator, or spent a long time in the ICU. There was a lot of chaos going on in March, and so many hospital beds were full, so the patient may not have had much movement or therapy during their stay. When they get home, they are still really easily fatigued, and many also have pressure ulcers from this lack of movement.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Women's Health & Wellness Advice

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *