Each year I try to think of some medical aspect in our lives for which to give thanks. It took no time at all in this extraordinary, tumultuous, and stressful year. When a newspaper uses the headline “Fund to help families of health workers killed by COVID”, there is no contest. ALL the people in the medical trenches fighting Covid infections, dead or alive deserve our undying thanks, gratitude, and admiration.
The amount of uncertainty about each and every patient from moment to moment and the struggle to change the medical deterioration of an individual getting sicker and sicker, and still keep a sense of direction and purpose requires herculean powers of mental and often physical strength. During my personal evolution into a mild mannered dermatologist (with a fake, screaming axe) I was fortunate to have some short lived intense and scary situations in emergency rooms that caused a quick rise in my blood pressure. I didn’t think it was so great at the time, but it taught me a lot.
However, my experience wasn’t hours and days and weeks of the same crash and crumble, battlefield-like medical conditions these folks live through. Nor do emergency medicine or ICU people in this country usually die from the disease a patient has. Nor was it a daily maelstrom of misery and despair as in some of the most intense COVID units. Family members don’t expect their loved one to die from doing their job. The above referenced article from the Minneapolis-Star Tribune Nov. 17, 2020, is about a new international fund begun by the St. Paul and Minnesota Foundation and now noted epidemiologist Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.
It hopes to raise millions of dollars for families of the almost 1,400 U.S. health care workers who have died from this infection. It is called the Frontline Families Fund. This would include doctors, nurses of all stripes, aides, AND support staff, the environmental specialists (maintenance/housekeeping). They are in contact with the patients and their things, and are in the rooms with them, just not at the bedside. Dr. Osterholm: “these people put their lives on the line, day after day after day, in harm’s way. They are the real heroes of this entire pandemic response”. “And it is really a situation where health care workers are the ultimate shock absorbers for so many medical, sociological, and economic issues.”
Health care personnel have lives to live outside their jobs. A Rochester Post Bulletin article Nov. 17, 2020, reported the Mayo Clinic announced that over 900 Mayo Clinic Staff have contracted COVID-19 in two weeks. It said that 93% of staff that contracted the virus did so in the community, and perhaps some in the break room while eating without a mask. The clinic is experiencing a shortage of 1,500 staff system wide, 1,000 in Rochester. In reality it is not completely possible to say precisely where an individual got infected. It is thought that it isn’t likely from the hospital because of the extreme infection precautions taken there.
The job of caring for these patients is made tougher not only because of losing patients, but also because some patients refuse to believe they have COVID, even as they are dying from it. An emergency room nurse from South Dakota was interviewed on CNN’s program “New Day,” expressing frustration that many of her patients don’t believe they are dying from COVID. Some patients say they don’t believe the virus is real as they are gasping for air. She said multiple patients target nurses like her with their anger and hatred. “They call you names and ask you why you have to wear all that ‘stuff’ because they don’t have COVID because it’s not real. It makes you sad and mad and frustrated that you’re going to come back and do it all over again.” It might be an interesting comparison to find out if the same holds true in areas that have accepted the viral reality and complied with masking.
We can give thanks for medical innovations, advances in care, or some new healing miracle (like band-aids when applied to a four-year-old’s owee), but in these trying times it may be a better choice to give thanks over and over to those struggling with combating this plague. We must do everything we can to ease their burden. And not whine about it. When I was 6 and in the dentist’s chair for the first time, I asked Mom if it would hurt. She replied, “Yes, it will. Just sit there, be quiet, and it will be over a lot sooner.” Good advice, Mom. Only add, wear a mask, distance yourself and wash your hands.
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