We are health care workers. We are doctors, advanced care practitioners, nurses, pharmacists, social workers, and so much more. We are on the frontlines. We are our parents’ children, and we are parents to our young children. For the first time, we are at an extremely high risk of being quarantined by the same beast we are trying to conquer. We are experiencing moral distress, guilt, and frustration, knowing our colleagues and patients need us when we can’t be there. And now, for the first time, we feel like you need to know what we are truly feeling.
For the first time, there is no you or I. No famous or average. There is no difference in race, sex, religion, or culture. We are one and the same, and for the first time, we all know what it feels like to be in each other’s shoes. You are me, and I am you. We are you and I. For the first time, we are all equal in the eyes of this virus as it challenges us all physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually.
For the first time, Mother Earth is healing while all of humanity is subconsciously healing. We are finding joy in the little things. Joy in reading, playing, laughing, learning, exercising, and spending time with loved ones. We are sparking joy. For the first time, we are social distancing but virtually connecting like never before. We have nowhere to go because we are where we are supposed to be – home. We have the time to reflect on our lives and hope to come out of this happier, healthier, and kinder to one another. For the first time, we are being forced to heal while the air around us gets clean, and Mother Earths’ other children come out to play.
For the first time, we realize what it is like to live like the people who live this reality every day. The people are who are immunocompromised on chemotherapy, have chronic diseases, social phobias, or are elderly. For the first time, people were just told “they might have cancer,” yet their surgeries and treatments may be postponed. People may be missing life-prolonging treatment.
For the first time, health care workers, in unison, are experiencing pre-traumatic stress and preparing for what will lead to significant post-traumatic stress for many of us. We feel betrayed for the lack of preparedness on our behalf. We are morally and ethically challenged. We are watching colleagues around the world, making heart-wrenching decisions. In the weeks to come, we may be faced with decisions we are not fully prepared to make. For the first time, we have to wrap our minds around the idea of rationing ventilators and ICU beds. We may have to decide who gets to live or die. For the first time, our patients will die alone without any family to hold them during their final hours. We are watching our colleagues around the world get critically ill and die. For the first time, palliative care clinicians will be just as critical and scarce as protective equipment, medications, ventilators, and hospital beds.
For the first time, we are the biggest risk to our children and families. We are deciding to isolate ourselves for fear that we will infect them. We are making plans for who will care for our children if we fall sick. We are planning meals for our children in case we are too sick to cook. We are anxious because we are parents, just like you. For the first time, we are looking at them being brave on the outside but breaking on the inside.
For the first time, we are questioning what our fate will be in the next few weeks. We are praying, meditating, and doing our best to stay positive. We are fearful of the day our hospitals run out of protective equipment. Because for the first time, we will be tested like never before. We are being called superheroes, but superheroes are never without their capes, gloves, and other gear that give them their powers. We are Mcguyvering equipment for ourselves that will protect us so we can care for you.
For the first time, we are being abused in public. We are being harassed because we are going to the hospital, risking exposure for you. We are going into high-risk rooms without being able to protect ourselves. We are being told to use bandanas and scarves to cover up instead of masks. For the first time, we remind you that we are human too. We are someone’s son, daughter, sibling, but most importantly, we are parents to our children. We are questioning what we did to deserve this. Because all we remember were the times we listened and cared for you in your darkest hours.
We are beyond grateful for all the essential workforce – grocery store clerks, restaurant and delivery workers, truck drivers, maintenance teams, farmers, policemen, and others – who are also putting themselves at risk during this crisis. But for the first time, we, the health care workers, are asking something from you. To be one with us and help us beat this virus. We are your equals, and in the end, we will all be called heroes for doing our parts. We are not asking you to spend countless hours at the hospital caring for patients, to sacrifice your health, to be away from your families, but only to send us any equipment (masks, gloves, gowns) that you may have. To stay in the comfort of your homes and hold your children tight during a time we cannot. Your friendly neighborhood health care workers will continue to show up at their hospitals to care for you and your loved ones. Some are already deep in it, and the rest of us wait for the storm that is coming.
Simran Malhotra is a palliative care physician and can be reached on Instagram @drveganfoodie and on Twitter @simranm15.
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