It’s hard to explain the stress of COVID19 to one who doesn’t work in healthcare. On top of the normal ICU stress, you are teamed up on with countless emails, plan changes, told you have PPE, then you don’t and you fight to bury fear that creeps into the back of your mind as rule-out patients arrive, positive patients are admitted, and your hospital is locked down. It is surreal, we are clearly in the midst of history.
Thus, when I finished my 6 day work stretch last week and someone close to me tried to make a mockery of COVID19 on society, I erupted. My people – nurses, doctors, techs, respiratory therapists, NP/PAs etc, are risking their own health and indirectly the health of their families to care for others, and some of society still has the gall to minimize it, which becomes personally offensive. And don’t even get me started on the mask issue. It’s just another instance where self-interest has taken advantage of nice people – the nice people being us. The ones who go into battle with no armor because something deep inside urges us forward to help. The people who are so exhausted caring for others that we don’t have time to fight a battle with the CDC or JCAHO so we are forced into a relationship of trust with our institutions. A trust that they will fight for us, and often they don’t. Because after all, hospitals are businesses too. We are targets because we are nice. We are easy to take advantage of and it’s been happening for years in healthcare. We are told what to do, we aren’t given a choice, when most governing bodies have no idea what we live through on a daily basis. I digress.
Complicating things further, we are a country of abundance in general and in healthcare (except when it comes to PPE), the ultimate “me” generation, which doesn’t translate well in a pandemic. We have young people who are out on vacation celebrating cheap air fares and concerned about events they must cancel, not understanding their one event could infect tens of thousands of people. We have a healthcare system that excels in providing “Hail Mary” care at an extremely high cost, but still fails at providing upstream care. Do we have the resources to provide “Hail Mary” care for the conservatively estimated 6 million people who will need ICU care? We have 68,558 ICU beds total in this country, have not even considered the lingering morbidity of these patients and the fact that the “normal” ICU population will not disappear while COVID-19 takes over. It makes me wonder, will this pandemic enable our excessive culture, or force it to transition?
I’m not even in the thick of this yet, my MICU/ED colleagues have been much more affected and honestly I can’t imagine how they feel, but I know my time is coming. Like many of you, I can’t get to my my parents without flying, so if something happens to them I don’t know what I’ll do – but I find myself formulating a plan A,B,C,D daily. I worry about infecting my fiancé at home or any of our friends because of my patient population. Although I do fear it, it is not the actual impact of COVID-19 upon me that scares me most, it is the fact that I could become a vector of hurt for someone else. And I think the world would benefit if more of us thought that way.
My final thought is this – my healthcare team is absolutely incredible and I am truly lucky to work in the stellar hospital I do. Healthcare workers are the most special breed of people I have ever witnessed. Although I return to my home at night with another healthcare worker, my fiancé, and he is the only person with which I have regular contact, I am blessed to be spending my days at work with the most brave, selfless people, who excel the most in a crisis.