Don’t look in: No, this isn’t a typo, it’s the sentiment many of my colleagues and I feel right about now. After a long stretch of shifts over New Year’s, I needed a mental break, so I logged into my trusty Netflix account and front and center was Don’t Look Up, the Leonardo DiCaprio dark satire about a comet hurtling towards earth (spoiler alert) and humanities failed efforts to take this life terminating threat seriously.
Rewind back to the spring of 2020 and we sacrificed for each other – those with non-emergent medical conditions stayed away from hospitals, governors in even covid-skeptic states like my home of Texas enacted mask mandates, and the calls of public health officials were at least partially heeded. No part of this pandemic has been handled perfectly; after all, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime event, so how could it be, but society at least tried to handle it. In the countless surges since then, we have become progressively numb to the pain and suffering that comes each time.
Now, we are breaking every record in the worst way possible, yet bars are open, high-quality masks are scarce, and emergency departments have a surge of non-emergent patients that want tests because we can give them a quicker answer. We should never have had to use the term “flatten the curve” after the spring of 2020, but here we are again. A new variant, generational health care inefficiencies, and the lack of political will have led us to overwhelmed hospitals once more. But this time, it’s scarier; there seems to be no bold government action coming down the pipeline, no stop-gap measures. Society simply won’t look in: Our health care system is not providing the standard of care, yet society hums along with at-capacity national championship games and bar scenes as if the roaring 20s are here.
I ask you to look in; look into our emergency departments and ICUs. What you’ll see isn’t comfortable, but maybe it’ll convince you to get that booster or commit to an N95 mask. You may be young and healthy, but if our system doesn’t get a reprieve, your loved one’s care for a heart attack will be delayed, or if you are in a motor vehicle accident, there may not be a trauma center to transfer you to or emergent blood to transfuse you with. We have to look out for each other; we have to flatten the curve one more time. I don’t have some creative new prescription: Get vaccinated, get boosted, wear a high-quality mask, and avoid the events and venues you avoided in the spring of 2020. A few weeks of those measures, and we’ll survive.
Watching Don’t Look Up ended up not being the mental break I had hoped. It simply hit too close to home, but I still have faith in us. As the comet of omicron hurls towards our health care system, I hope we make the decisions that save lives and preserve the functions of our health care system.
Owais Durrani is an emergency medicine resident.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com