Two weeks ago, I wrote to describe our pandemic situation as a labor of love. Now, as a fourth-year medical student – the only word I can find is: fury. I am absolutely furious. I am furious that the country’s leading public health agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has been muzzled and not permitted to speak directly to our people. I am furious that our federal response information is based on the opinions of one man and that science continues to be ignored. I am furious that our health care workers (my friends, mentors, family members, and next month – me) are fighting on the frontlines of this pandemic without sufficient protection.
But the best we can do for them is applause and social media shoutouts. They are updating their advanced directives and wills, but luxury designers are making masks instead of medical device companies because of a trade war created by the administration. I am furious that we have been put in a position to develop protocols on who will get a ventilator and who will be left. Our medical school administrations continue to fail us. As a fourth-year medical student, I am furious that I continue to pay tuition while being sidelined. Instead of trusting our education thus far and putting us in to take care of regular patients (with supervision as always) and by doing so freeing up other personnel to handle the emergency, they continue to take thousands of dollars a month from us with little interest in our education or ability. This is not the last pandemic of our careers; why are we not helping and learning? Another medical student wrote a thoughtful piece addressing the importance of senior medical students in the process. We will be on the frontlines of this situation in weeks but are being brushed aside instead of prepping.
I am furious that we were given over a month’s headstart, and somehow we still ended up here. I am furious that hundreds of millions of our tax dollars over the last decade have gone to pandemic preparedness and exercises, and that entire protocol was checked at the door with this administration. The weaknesses those exercises and strategies highlighted are exactly what we are seeing in real-time now after being given years to prepare. Our national strategy for pandemic influenza – which could have been a model for a response – was torn up in favor of someone who shouts that this virus is a hoax created by the opposing political party.
Don’t get me wrong – this pandemic has continued to be a labor of love. In Ohio, our biggest celebrity is now the health director Dr. Acton. She has shown us that by practicing social distancing, we have successfully flattened the curve and delayed the surge of patients (for now). Animal shelters are almost empty as people take this opportunity to adopt and foster our most vulnerable beings. Mutual aid groups abound, and students in limbo are volunteering to pass out school lunches and work at food banks. Sewing groups around the country are making homemade masks to protect (as much as possible) their local health care workers. But the point is that this should never have happened. We knew there would be a PPE shortage: why are we settling for pretty homemade masks that offer little protection when we need N95s? Why is our federal response delaying the request to manufacture more ventilators immediately? How have we let this happen?
The point is, being furious is not enough. As health care workers, we need to start writing and calling our representatives to do better. Our local, state, and federal representatives need to hear from us. They need to hear that we want them to fight for us harder. We need to jump into the process we can. We need to make sure we – as health care workers – have our voices heard to advocate for our patients. We, for decades, have been completely shut out of policymaking as business executives jumped in with their money-hungry “expertise.” With our patients and colleagues dying from those approaches, it’s time we speak up. It’s time they listen when we say we need something to protect our population. It is time we take our political process seriously because we can see now our complacency has cost us lives. We MUST remember this pandemic next time we think our hospital administrators will represent our needs, and our patient needs to the legislature. Let us put our fury into action and demand more from the government, which is supposed to protect us all but has only protected the few. It’s time for us as the populace to stand back up for that elusive idea: a country of the people, by the people, for the people.
Rinki Goswami is a medical student.
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