What a time to be alive. What a time to be a new emergency room doctor. Ten months into a hopefully long career and already facing the healthcare battle of my life. I’m in my early 30s. Not exactly the highest risk age group when it comes to the novel coronavirus. But make no mistake, people my age have died and likely will continue to. Being 100 percent honest, I often feel terrified.
This country is in a much different place than it was a few short months ago. It’s obvious to see how things have changed by just walking outside. My commute to work that normally took 20 minutes now takes 6, thanks to essentially no traffic. All of the day to day activities I took for granted are no longer available to me as they once were. The world is at a standstill, and the U.S. economy has followed suit.
People are scared right now. Many are fearful of contracting the virus, but just as many are fearful about their economic security and making ends meet. I have received many phone calls and text messages from family and friends asking if they should be afraid of the virus, but I have received just as many calls asking how long this is expected to last. “When do you think I’ll be able to go back to work?” for many people, is just as important of a question as “Will I get sick?”
Thousands of more people will likely die from the novel coronavirus, but how many more may die from losing their jobs? Their paychecks? Their health insurance? Less than the virus itself? Or more? I still remember the quote from the Hollywood blockbuster The Big Short, where Brad Pitt says, “for every 1 percent that unemployment goes up, 40,000 people die.” This is likely a fictionalized number, but it is based on statistics on diseases like heart attacks, strokes, suicides, and more and how they appear to increase substantially when people are stressed and worried about their future during a recession. For every person that dies prematurely secondary to a recession, how many more will get divorced? How many children will suffer trauma from financial or food insecurity? The consequences are far-reaching.
Do I worry about getting sick? Of course, but I don’t worry much about dying or losing my livelihood from this situation. I currently belong to a group of people with the best job security in the world. No matter what happens, my paycheck will continue to direct deposit. My wife and baby will still have money for food and rent. Many people don’t have that same security.
So where can we go from here? The stimulus package unanimously approved by the senate was a great step in the right direction. I think we are on the right path to slowing the spread and gaining control of the situation. If you have excess supplies like N95 masks, maybe consider donating them to a hospital, as we are running out quickly across the country. Do your best not to hoard everyday supplies like toilet paper or cleaners. But most of all, try and remember how many people are suffering in other ways at this time and find ways to support them if possible. Call and check up on friends and family, shop at a small business, order food from an independent restaurant. We are all in this mess together and will all get through it together. For now, I’m personally counting my blessings.
Shane Sobrio is an emergency medicine resident.
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