Physicians are disposable and are taken for granted

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Doctors are begging the public for basic protective equipment.  Us. The United States of America. Supposedly the most advanced, most privileged nation in the world.

We are in a pandemic dumpster fire. There has been no centralized movement to tackle this escalating threat.  Every hospital, city, county, and state has been left to flounder on its own. I’m not the only one who’s noticed we’re completely floundering, right?  Doctors have turned to FB forums to share information and attempt to standardize care. I see physicians independently trying to coordinate an organized response. I keep thinking: Where is the leadership? Why aren’t they at the helm with a clear message and plan? Why aren’t they coordinating a supply intake and outflow? Why aren’t they coordinating plans for when frontline “soldiers” fall ill? Why haven’t they relayed standardized treatment plans? Why didn’t they push aggressively to shut everything down? We cannot even trust the CDC. The moment they recommended scarves and bandannas, they lost credibility with even the most patient amongst us.  Don’t get me wrong. I’m not criticizing doctors. Most of us have been amazing despite the fact we have been handed a sh*t sandwich and told to eat it. We are clinicians and healers – not politicians, not civic leaders. But what do I know? I’m an overeducated cog in the machine.

Like beggars, we are pleading to any who will listen to give the five masks they have stuffed somewhere in their garage.  Some have resorted to sewing masks, others McGyvering their own. How did this even become an acceptable option? And now this.  Rather than asking us, “How can we help? What do you need?”, administrators tell us to be quiet, cease and desist, wear your (one time use) mask for a week, spray down with Lysol, don’t wear masks at all – you’ll scare the patients. No, you can’t wear what you bought. Don’t talk to the public; don’t talk to the media.  Do you have a fever? No, you can’t be tested. No, you can’t stay home. We are their golden geese and nothing more. Put on your Lysol sprayed mask and keep working.

I am the first to admit that I am bitter. I am angry.  Like many of you, I cannot look away, and the more I look, the more the rage grows.  The fuel isn’t just the malignant negligence on the part of leaders, but the sheer apathy from the public.  It is too much to ask people to stop eating out, stop going to bars, stop with the brunches, the playdates, the trips, and church. Even when we say they are surely killing others and making our jobs impossible, they continue life as usual.

Like you, I have more at stake.  We are a two doctor household with two young kids.   My husband is EM, right in the thick of things. He is healthy.  He will likely be OK, but still, I cannot help but be overwhelmed with anxiety. I work outpatient care part-time. I should be at low risk compared to others. I am immunocompromised, but this is what we signed up for – to treat the sick, and that comes with risk.  I’ve been stuck by needles and splattered by blood, pus, vomit, feces, and every other liquid humans produce. I’ve been cursed at and physically threatened. I’ve taken prophylaxis for treating meningococcal meningitis and exposed to a myriad of contagious diseases.  These are considered acceptable risks as physicians. However, there was always an expectation of support for the best possible outcome to allow us to continue doing our job and best serve our communities.

What we have now is not what we signed up for. I’ve heard many apt analogies. We are soldiers flung into a battle with paper shields and toy guns.  We are fighting fires with flipflops and a squirt gun. The message is the same. We are disposable. We are taken for granted. We are paying the bill incurred by the avarice of the leaders at the top and suffering the consequences of the public who think sacrifice does not apply to them.  But make no mistake.  I am not a martyr. I am not a saint, and I feel no obligation to be either.  I will not allow myself or my family to be made a victim because our leaders failed in every way to provide us with the basics necessary to do the job within an ethical, reasonable amount of risk.  At the very moment that we are told to do our job without the protection provided to health care providers in every other country, they will have failed us completely, and I will retire. I have extracted a promise from my spouse he will do the same.  I very much doubt we are alone in this sentiment.

The author is an anonymous physician.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com 

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