Doctors used to be heroes. We used to be universally respected. Our opinions used to mean something. And now? Now the president of the United States goes on live TV and vilifies us. Pointing the finger, shifting the blame to us as the reason you can’t go to the bar and watch the game, or go to Disney World, or get drunk every day on spring break at the beach. Taking the inevitable economic recession that’s going to pummel this country, and laying it at our feet. If it was up to us, we’d “shut down the entire world.”
Yes, you are absolutely right: We would. We are students of history, students of medicine, and we know that drastic measures are the only hope we have to keep millions of people from dying. So we say it, and we keep saying it again and again until we’re blue in the face: Stay home.
We, however, can’t stay home. We’re going out into battle every day, and we’re equipped with the equivalent of toy guns. Armed with equipment that does not help prevent us from contracting this illness and even dying. Yet millions of healthcare workers are still showing up every day and putting themselves, their families, even their colleagues and other patients at risk.
What do we get for our devotion to our profession? One doctor, going to the grocery store in her (clean) work scrubs was punched in the face by a stranger. She posted a picture of her battered and blackened eye, shocking her fellow physicians. Her assailant had shouted: “You’re the reason this is happening! You’re making us all sick!” On social media, reports are multiplying of similar incidents. Stranger spitting on healthcare workers in their scrubs. People screaming obscenities. Instead of being thanked for our selfless efforts day after day, we are reviled.
We take comfort in each other. We commiserate in the seeming hopelessness of our situation. We laugh at jokes the general public would find appalling, black humor the only tonic for our weary souls. We step in to help pick up the shifts of a quarantined or ill colleague. We make ourselves available and at the ready for when the tsunami of COVID-19 patients breaches our walls. We thought we’ve seen it all, done it all … until now. We have unwavering respect and admiration for our colleagues; we know what it costs to be on the frontlines.
We need the same respect from the public. We need you to listen to what we say. We are telling you this is the worst infection we’ve ever seen in our lifetimes. We are telling you it is going to get much worse. We are telling you we’re scared. We are telling you that staying home is worth every cost because it’s to save your life.
Jenny Hartsock is a hospitalist who blogs at Doctor of a Certain Size.
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