I am exhausted.
Mentally, emotionally, physically.
I fear we are reaching our breaking point. We have run a marathon, hoping that we were nearing the finish line as we saw numbers decline in June, only to be told to lace up our sneakers and start over.
Work in outpatient pediatrics is always busy in the summer – seeing our patients for school and sports physicals, marveling at how much they’ve grown since we saw them last, and anticipating how to best keep them healthy, thriving, learning, and growing for the year to come. It is busy, but rewarding.
This year is different.
This year, we have our busy winter respiratory illness season in the summer, concurrent with our well-child visit season. We are seeing many babies and children coughing, wheezing, short of breath, with tearful parents begging us to help their child, when sometimes all we can do is support them through it and hope they don’t end up in the hospital, or worse.
We’re seeing rising COVID cases (again), particularly in young children, as they don’t yet have access to vaccinations. This year, even more than last year, the anxiety level is through the roof for parents and children as they see their communities give up on them and decide that they are no longer worth protecting. I am as baffled as they are as to why some schools don’t follow the recommendations of the AAP, thinking they somehow know better than a huge group of pediatricians who have been caring for the physical and mental health of children through this pandemic. Nearly every visit these days includes more time for discussion and questions about COVID vaccines, masks, return to school policies, etc. I continue to fight the good fight, but there is only so much I can do. By the time I give each patient and family the time they need, I am far behind, apologizing to every family for the wait, and spending hours after the last patient leaves trying to catch up before going home to my own family.
Every day, I gently and patiently try to dispel misinformation one by one in discussions with my patients and their families. I try to share the AAP, CDC, MDH, etc. school recommendations with a school mom’s group in response to another post against safe return to school recommendations (only to be shut down and told it is inappropriate for a physician to share accurate medical data). I tell my patients that my family is vaccinated, including my older son, and as soon as it is available for my younger kids, they will be too. I explain why wearing a mask is a way their child can protect themselves and learn the valuable lesson of caring about and protecting the people around them. I took my son and my goddaughter to volunteer with me at community vaccine clinics, putting love of and service to our community in action. I try to explain complex scientific concepts in simple language to dispel the rampant misinformation circulating and keep people from accepting lifesaving preventative measures. I try to appeal to a sense of community by asking people to protect themselves and those around them.
In the end, though, I feel increasingly demoralized as I am buffeted by the epic storm of the dual pandemic – that of a deadly virus and deadly misinformation. Some days it feels like trying to bail water out of the Titanic with a teaspoon. Every day, it feels like we are losing the battle anew.
I am exhausted and sad and disappointed and discouraged.
I am losing faith in humanity. Where is the “love your neighbor as yourself”? Where is the willingness to help each other? Where is the solidarity of those first days? Physicians have gone from being heroes to being villains. We have dedicated decades of our lives to learning how to care for you, but now our knowledge and expertise are being thrown back in our faces as not good enough and not as believable as your cousin’s friend who saw something on social media.
It is hard to keep going. But we do. We keep going because we have dedicated our lives and careers to our patients. We follow our Hippocratic Oath, and we do the best we can for every patient no matter who they are, what they believe, or what choices they make. But many of us are barely clinging to our passion to serve.
Each day, I get out of bed, swallow my frustration and disappointment, and pray for the fortitude and resilience to face another workday, because I know that if I can make a difference, however small, it means something. And I know that my patients and their families bring me joy! But each day, my heart breaks a little more. It shouldn’t have to be this way, but this is the world we live in right now.
I am exhausted.
But yesterday, I got a smile from my sweet patient in the ICU clawing her way back from death’s door and hugs from her mom. And that is what I needed to keep going.
Lisa Cronk is a pediatrician.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com