I wonder how much money hospitals have spent on misguided ideas to raise staff morale during COVID.

We now have mood cards in the clinic break room. What am I supposed to do with them? Should I clip one to my coat today? The Red one says I am “ill,” but the list of conditions from which I suffer means that I need urgent psychiatric help. While that might be true, I don’t think that wearing the red card is a good idea. I can pick the yellow one if am just “not having fun.”

I know this was done with good intentions. We need to support each other. Morale is low and staff suicide is at an all time high. However, I am not sure how these mood cards can be used effectively, and I am not sure that focusing on how I feel today is even a good idea. I woke up with a migraine and I feel lousy, but talking about it means that I make other people suffer.

In the 1980’s, I spent two months at the Western Infirmary in Glasgow, Scotland as a medical student on one of those open “Florence Nightingale” wards — the ones with lots of beds and curtains around them (in the days before COVID and HIPAA). A very senior professor told me a about a study done about the patients on those wards during the darkest days of WWII in Britain. They were running out of everything – food, medications and staff – bombs were dropping. The more able-bodied patients helped take care of the sicker patients on the ward. Everyone was suffering, but the use of morphine went down among all patients. I don’t think it was because the patients were in less pain – I think it was because they were busy doing useful things.

Focusing on how I feel today is not very helpful to me. If fact, it’s interesting how much discomfort you can ignore when you are engaged in something important or interesting. We do need safe ways to ask for help, but I do not think these cards are the way to do that.

We might be better off NOT focusing on negative feelings, and focusing instead on doing the best job we can right now, and being kind and helpful to each other. All day long I hear my nurses asking each other, “Is there anything I can do to help you?” What a great example they set for me. However, if do you see me wearing one of these cards…