Ignoring a problem won’t make it go away. I say this all the time, with love and compassion, to my patients who are having trouble accepting a diagnosis. Ignoring your Type 2 Diabetes, for example, won’t make it any less real. It will only land you in renal failure and on dialysis, or with a foot amputation, or a heart attack or stroke. Sometimes, we have to set ego aside. We have to accept and learn to deal with our new reality. If we don’t, it could kill us.
This is the situation we are in with COVID-19. Ignoring the problem, downplaying the warnings, can only hurt us. Is it going to be convenient? No. Will it be fun? Absolutely not. Are we going to have to make sacrifices and forego regular life for a while? Yes. But we have to take this seriously. If we don’t, we’ll have only ourselves to blame for the unnecessary loss of life.
I get it that people are scared. I am right there with you. I’m scared for my children who have two medical parents, a fact which puts them at higher risk for contracting this illness. I’m scared for my friend, who finally beat her Hodgkin’s lymphoma and is now terrified to leave the house because she’s at high risk for COVID-19 complications. I worry about my medical partners across the country who are falling victim to this virus while trying to save others. I worry about the owners of small businesses and their employees, like my neighbor, who had to lay off his entire outpatient clinic staff because he is only able to do emergent surgeries in the hospital.
People that are living paycheck to paycheck or tip to tip, and those that employ them, have a right to be seriously concerned. We need to do everything we can, as individuals and through community support and governmental actions, to shore up our people and businesses. We have to provide a safety net for our citizens if we are going to keep from falling into a deep depression (and I mean that both in the financial and psychological sense).
But for your average Joe or Jill to go back to work as the pandemic illness continues to spread exponentially, to relax our public health measures when they matter most, would be short-sighted and irresponsible. It would put our citizens and health care works at dire risk. We can’t get back to work, support our families, or re-open businesses if we are sick or on life-support. We must defer these decisions to those with knowledge of disease and experience in managing epidemics and pandemics. Our public health experts, our scientists, and epidemiologists, need to be driving this bus.
I don’t often curse. I am generally a mild-mannered, give-everyone-the-benefit-of-the-doubt, kind of person. But a few choice words have recently crossed my lips when I hear the president talk about focusing on business and the dollar instead of the health of our citizens; when the Texas lieutenant governor suggests that the elderly should be willing to sacrifice themselves to the virus in order to allow our economy to get back to normal; when the states’ governors are told that it is their job to hunt for ventilators and other supplies themselves, pitting them against each other in bidding wars where no one’s a winner; when the White House has the resources and ability to get personal protective equipment (PPE) to our front-line medical providers and, instead, chooses to spend time and money sending out a postcard to millions of Americans, telling us what we already know.
Doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, and other invaluable hospital workers are not expendable. Without them, who will take care of our parents, spouses, neighbors, and others afflicted with COVID-19, not to mention all the other usual serious medical conditions that also deserve attention? These are the people who are going to war everyday against an invisible enemy, sacrificing their own lives and health, and that of their families, to take care of the sick and dying. They are working to exhaustion. The least we can do is give them the supplies they need to do their jobs safely and the tests they need to identify those at risk. Our government, our president, must take decisive steps towards this end and stop wasting time.
And what about us – the citizens of the United States? How will we vote our voice in the upcoming elections? I don’t care which box you checked last time. I really don’t. I judge a person based on their actions, the love they put out into the world, and the care they give to others, not on their political affiliation. Indeed, my family and friends’ beliefs lie across the political spectrum.
The question we must ask ourselves now, not as members of a particular political party but as members of this human family, is: Are we a people who put self before others? Are we a people that value the dollar over human life? Or are we those that will go the extra mile for someone in need? Will we defer comfort and convenience to save another?
Surely, we are the latter. I need to believe in our humanity and generosity of spirit. The good in the world must win out. My heart won’t be able to take it if it doesn’t.
Gretchen LaSalle is a family physician and author of Let’s Talk Vaccines.
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