As cases exploded across the country, I watched with horror as I saw people go on with their daily lives as if hundreds of thousands of people were not dying, as if millions were not infected, as if our health care system was not collapsing. I watched our country – a country I once believed in – fail miserably in taking care of its own people.
In many ways, I know I am incredibly lucky. I have access to health care, food, and shelter. I can safely isolate. I have thus far been spared the worst of COVID’s wrath. At home, I lie in my bed, breathing comfortably without the help of a ventilator. And yet, I was not spared the knowledge of the terrors of COVID. Images cross my mind of the otherwise healthy patients who desaturate before our eyes, requiring intubation; those who die alone in the hospital with no loved ones around them; the downstream effects of COVID we are just beginning to see and do not fully understand.
As the phrase “health care heroes” gets splattered around us, I cannot help but wonder if anyone realizes I don’t want to be anyone’s “hero.” Do they know I had no choice? That my only option was to continue working?
I want to take care of my patients – and I also want to be adequately protected. I want to work in a system that will take care of me and live in a country that values humanity and human life. I want to open Instagram and not see people gallivanting around the country, gathering with people outside of their home, going to holiday dinners with multiple family units – all with the knowledge that our health care system will soon be dealing with the aftermath.
In the end, we will be here to take care of each person who falls ill. When there are no beds left in the hospital, we will create more. We will build and fill, and staff field hospitals. In return, I ask that you value the lives around you the way we would value your life if you ended up in our hospital or in our care.
We will continue doing everything in our power to care for you and your loved ones because that is what we do. But know this takes a massive toll: a generation of health care workers burnt out and dealing with the trauma that has been 2020.
Madison Pomerantz is a psychiatry resident.
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