A pathologist’s message to the public


14 years ago, I recited the Hippocratic Oath, and two sections have always stuck with me:

“Into whatsoever houses I enter, I will enter to help the sick” and “I will use treatment to help the sick according to my ability and judgment.”

The events over the last couple of weeks have affected me deeply.  Of course, I’m concerned about a novel virus that is infecting and killing people.  But, I’m more distraught over the reaction of the people, the response of the state and federal governments, the blatant disregard of science/epidemiology, and the warnings of our physicians on the front lines.

Most of us will get this virus and be OK.  But slowing it down is 100 percent vital. Why? Because our health care system has limited resources. We only have so many hospital beds in this country and, at last count, only 62,000 ventilators. If the forecasted numbers of infected Americans reach the projected peak in the millions, we will have no choice but to ration those resources. This means a physician will be tasked with choosing who gets a chance to live and who does not. This is the reality in other countries.

Maybe you think the ICUs were empty, and doctors and nurses were just sitting around doing nothing before COVID-19 showed up? Hardly. We will definitely see an increase in deaths from all the other people who need ICU care.  All cancer, dialysis, septic, heart failure, etc. patients who already overcrowd the ICUs will still be around and need support. How will our healthcare system manage everyone? Please STOP and think about this.

Our health care system is finite with limited resources of equipment, medication, and workforce.  Our ER and ICU doctors and RNs are getting sick.  Some don’t even have proper personal protective equipment to protect them from this virus. In the coming weeks, other physicians may be asked to step in and help during this crisis. Pathologists, dermatologists, plastic surgeons, orthopedic surgeons, etc. may find themselves taking care of ICU patients and managing vent settings.

I was lucky enough to train at a wonderful hospital, loved my ICU months as an intern, and learned from the real-life physicians who were the basis for the lead character on House.  If needed, I will enter this fight with guns blazing.  But, I will do so with a very heavy heart because it will be because people don’t want to change their routines. I will risk my health, life, and family because people don’t want to be inconvenienced to cancel their play dates, birthday parties, weddings, bar hopping, cheap travel, date nights, workouts … the list goes on and on.

This is not a long term thing.  This is not an infringement on your rights.  This is a pandemic plain and simple.  Passing around statements claiming that the situation is not serious or is being exaggerated is hurting everyone. This is a national crisis, and conveying misinformation to your friends and family may put their lives and the lives of our vulnerable populations in danger.

As a result, I am revisiting my old books, reading new literature about critical care medicine, refreshing my memory on vent settings and EKGs. I will be ready to shutter my safe solo private practice office and head into battle, but I would like to know the general population is doing their part to support me and my sisters and brothers in medicine.  I am a pathologist. I am a physician. I will help the sick according to my ability and judgment. I plead for you to do your part as well.

Michelle C. Hure is a dermatopathologist.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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