This breath is a gift …
This moment is a gift …
This life is a gift …
As with every other person, I am struggling to comprehend the staggering effects that COVID-19 has had on our society in such a short time. Gone are the carefree smiles, the uncomplicated daily lives, and the thought that we and our families are immune to unexpected death. Instead, we are witnessing a collapse in society to the degree that most believe survival hinges on the amount of toilet paper and paper towel one has stockpiled.
Being an ER physician facing this dilemma on the front lines of a large emergency and trauma center, I am also bearing witness to the more daunting picture of this dilemma–the mental and physical effects COVID-19 is having on our patients as well as on all of us. Regardless of the severity of a patient’s illness and diagnosis, time and again, I am now witnessing an unsettling fear in their eyes, conveying a belief that somehow COVID-19 is playing a part in their (lack of) well-being. They are scared.
For the rest of us, any minor symptom is being questioned. All one has to do is cough or sneeze in public to expose just how nervous everyone is. Just yesterday, someone sneezed in our local Walmart, sparking a big argument and confrontation. We are all scared.
Friends and family have asked me my thoughts on COVID-19, maybe believing I have some special information simply from being on the front lines. And the truth is, I am not sure what to think at this point. I recently finished seven consecutive shifts in which I, along with my incredible co-workers, have been part of our hospital’s evolving approach to the growing concern of COVID-19. Rightly so, these policies have changed frequently as we sort out the information amid new revelations, details, and statistics as they come in. It is safe to say that many of us have never before experienced anything like this in our careers.
It seems we are all standing on sandy beaches watching this huge wave coming at us, gaining momentum as it gets closer and closer to shore. We feel helpless. In attempts to solidify our footing, though, we are linking arms, unified in following the directions given to us. Isolate ourselves. Wash our hands. Don’t touch our faces. Use elbow-bump greetings. Take extra precautions around the elderly, the young, and the immunocompromised. Don’t bog down our frontline medical providers with mild symptoms.
Will this be enough to keep our firm footing once the COVID-19 wave hits? Or is this wave going to knock us on our asses? Are we prepared for the outcome of either?
Turning on the news only seems to spark more fear and hysteria. We are witnessing the devastating loss of lives in other countries. We are witnessing a lack of basic necessary food and supplies for some while others hoard. We are witnessing a collapse in our economic structure. We are witnessing the world shrink down to only what exists within the four walls of our homes.
So with all of this confusion and fear existing in our society, what are we to do? How do we make sense of all the information, true or otherwise, that is bombarding us every second of every hour of every day?
When things become complicated, sometimes the easiest approach to clarification is to simply breakdown all of the complications to their most basic forms. What follows are some of the things I will continue to do with each passing day that COVID-19 is a part of my life.
First and foremost, remember to be kind during all of this ruckus. Say “I love you” a little bit more to those you love. Wear your smile often. Be patient when you are frustrated. Call your neighbors and check in with them. Help an elderly person with their shopping in the store. Leave that extra roll of toilet paper on the shelf for the next person. Make an extra phone call a day to someone you haven’t spoken to in a while. Use email and online messaging to stay connected. Help someone in need with childcare if all involved are well. Have a pizza delivered to a friend.
Be. Kind. Always.
Secondly, stay positive. I know this is a hard one, but when has a doom-and-gloom attitude ever helped a situation? Your mental health and your physical well-being are tied together in ways that we often overlook, and sometimes a better outlook depends on both a healthy mentality and physicality. Stay connected through phone calls, emails, and messaging. Take a walk. Go to bed earlier. Nap. Stretch. Try yoga. Do your pushups and situps and planks and pull-ups while your gym is closed. Turn off the murder movies and put on the funny ones. Don’t look at your retirement funds. Whatever it takes, try to greet the world with a bigger smile.
Three, use your time wisely. How many of us dreamt of having two or more weeks off from our daily lives? In essence, this is a big timeout. Use it wisely. Love yourself and learn to be comfortable being alone. Be introspective. Make changes. Evaluate your life and the things that demand your energy. Eliminate the toxic from your life (people and habits). Clean your house and dust that shelf. Go through your clothes and donate. Rearrange your rooms. Give excitement to the things that have begun to bore you.
Four, don’t underestimate the power of a good book and a great song.
Five, don’t let all of the confusion over COVID-19 detract you from the simplicities being asked of you from your leaders. Don’t travel. Stay isolated. Do your hand-washing. Etc. Respect all the offered instructions to ensure not only your own livelihood but those around you. A simple defiance of these guidelines could have a ripple effect, unlike anything you could imagine.
Six, don’t engage in finger-pointing. Like me, I am sure most of you are tired of hearing the policy-makers and naysayers blame one another for the lack of testing, for the lack of preparedness, for the lack of funding, and for the lack of leadership and guidance. Corona is here now. Hindsight is 20/20. These negative behaviors and actions and words will only fog our clarity on moving forward to beat COVID-19. Don’t engage. In the here and now, rather, we need to be supportive, mature adults and unify in making the best decisions for ourselves based on the most recent and reliable information available. Let’s be proactive. In the future, we can take the time to look back, reevaluate, and learn from this.
Seven, please make wise choices and be responsible when pursuing medical care. If your symptoms are minor, but you are concerned, such as a sniffle or sore throat or occasional cough, stay home or touch base with your family doctor’s office for further guidance. If your symptoms include shortness of breath, lethargy, uncontrolled fevers, change in mental status, or more severe symptoms, please seek immediate help.
We are great at what we do.
We are ready to save lives.
Please let us focus on the critically ill.
Finally, I want to humbly ask that you keep all of the frontline medical providers in your prayers. Instead of having the benefit of safely staying home, we will be leaving the comfort of our homes to show up for your sake. Every minute of every hour of every day through this crisis, millions of us will be available to provide you care while risking our own health. Your unwavering support and kindness through this ordeal are greatly appreciated. Rest assured we will provide each of you the best of our knowledge, our resources, our training, our energy, and our compassion if you are ill and need us. We signed up willingly for our jobs out of love to provide you with competent emergent care, and we will deliver.
Standing alone on the shore, one is bound to get knocked on his ass from the COVID-19 wave. Standing together, our brigade will be successful against this wave. We have to be. We must all come together and support each other. We need to unify our thinking, our energy, and our efforts. And as we travel this treacherous path together, please remember that we are all human and need to root each other on.
I have always had a great faith in humanity. My work in the ER has provided me countless beautiful moments where I have been privileged to see the absolute best in people during the absolute worst of times. I have faith that at the end of the day, when this COVID-19 is no longer in our lives, I will look back on these dark days and be proud of my fellow man for the dignity and pride shown through this crisis.
Please be safe. Please give your best. Please do your part.
I wish each of you a peaceful heart.
I wish each of you a calm mind.
I wish each of you good health.
We will beat this together …
“StorytellERdoc” is an emergency physician who blogs at his self-titled site, StorytellERdoc.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com