I’ve moved recently, and in the process of moving, invariably, one discovers old items. This had gotten shelved in the fracas of those years, work changed overnight, changing employers, moving. However, in a discussion with a close friend today, this resurfaced as she’s grappling with patients and family who are not seeing what she’s seeing.
It’s another Sunday night family dinner. Conversation centers around catching up on the latest family news. Invariably, as many discussions do these days, the talk turns to COVID. Dad’s carrying on about how the lockdowns are a bad idea, that COVID isn’t that bad, and that masks don’t work and are harmful. I’m inwardly seething, and finally, I go ballistic. I am not proud of it, but I can only be pushed so many times before I must speak my piece, I’m far too stubborn for my own good. There is a fair amount of shouting and table pounding, and I leave the table early, heading back to work. I’m thinking, “Might as well get some things done since my night has been shot to pieces. I hate it when he does this, it makes me feel invisible.” The testing line is still bustling, I’m back in my office within shouting distance of the testing areas.
I’m doing what my coworkers call angry typing, they’ve learned it’s better to let me be and come back later if they don’t want to hear what’s got me so annoyed. I settle down to deal with the mounting stack of claims to be sent out, and a realization hits me. Dad just sees this as numbers and his inconvenience. I work within feet of the lion’s den as the active testing area is called around the office, and I see faces.
I see patients’ faces. Some walk in scared. They are feeling awful, and they are frightened. Some of them walk out relieved, I’ve never had someone so excited to test positive for flu. Others walk out just as scared. I see some walk in laughing and joking, but they walk out in tears because it just got real and hit home.
I see practitioners’ faces and clinic staff’s faces. Bone tired, bruised by a who knows how old N95, sweating under an isolation gown. I see one of the best managers I’ve worked with working for months on end every day to keep the staff together. I see one of the practitioners, who is a gentle soul, slumped down against the wall, in a torn gown, beyond exhausted. I see one of the toughest techs burst into tears multiple times a week. I see someone who I once respected head down a dishonest path, and they are no longer the person they once were. The physical toll of exhaustion was easy to see. The unseen toll was greater: newly diagnosed chronic conditions, mental strain, burnout, patients demanding what we can’t give, we can’t give what we don’t have.
I’ve held them as they’ve fallen apart, they’ve held me when I could feel the job killing me. I cried with them. I celebrated with them. I laughed with them. I’ve worked with them. I kept a small sewing machine in my office to sew up ripped shoddy isolation gowns repeatedly. I researched and worked long into the night to make PPE to cover shortfalls.
When I started working for that practice pre-COVID, I swore I would do everything within my power to make things easier for practitioners and staff. This was, in part, why I did what I did. The other part was they looked out for me too. These were my people; these were my tribe. I went to bat for them, they went to bat for me.
When the talk turns to COVID, I do not see numbers and policy: I see faces. Faces that I care about. Mental snapshots, not only of serious and tired faces but happy and goofy faces, unfortunately, became rarer and rarer as time passed. Faces that I pray for their safety every night, that somehow, they would be kept safe, that they would be spared.
So lay off the politics. See what I see. See the faces.
The author is an anonymous medical biller.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com