If you ignore the masks, the missing exam room toys, and the “astronaut doctor” PAPR on my head, you might think it was a regular day in my pediatric office. But it’s not. It’s a day where we are still all trying to push through the thickness in the air that is COVID. We can keep pushing and learn how to focus on what we need to do. We’ve done it many times before. The challenge is not losing our spirit. The one that made us choose pediatrics. The fun-loving, thoughtful, listening, playful spirit. It’s easier when you have a toddler trying to kiss you through your mask, a four year old who is in awe of her own reflexes, or new parents who really need you as they fall in love with their child during the first days of parenthood but are “ deer in headlights” terrified.
The bigger challenge for me has been the mental health struggles of the preadolescents and teens. The anxiety, depression, abuse, suicidal ideations, eating disorders, bullying, OCD, and family conflicts are surfacing like never before. This is just another part of the tragedy that is this pandemic. The silence that it was is now deafening and ever-present in my days. These struggles that were just beneath the surface are bubbling over now. But just maybe it is ok because these kids will get help. Maybe it’s ok because we have been more aware and ask more questions now.
Some have been dismissive. A few have been forthcoming and accepting of help. Others are almost catatonic and frozen in mind, in body, and in spirit. They all have the same glare in their eyes, reaching out to us, begging for help. They long for it. They long for validation. They long for attention. They deserve all three. How can we get them there when we are so limited and lack the resources? If only we could go back in time and provide them with the foundation they needed long before COVID and before the toxic stressors took over. If only we could move ahead and convince them that they can have more, love themselves more, and that every second more is in the past.
Lauretta Ginex Stombaugh is a pediatrician.
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