It took a pandemic to reveal the “secret.”
It took a pandemic to realize the importance of health care workers. Ironic, isn’t it? It took a pandemic to know what doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, laboratory technicians, and environmental services personnel go through every day. Yes, this is what they do every day. Surprise, surprise!
Every day we head to work early in the morning sometimes before the sun is up, not knowing what the day holds for us. We do not walk into empty buildings that are waiting for employees to fill them with life. Instead we walk into a building where things never stop, where the goal is to provide and keep lives. We are greeted by people who are walking the other direction after a long shift. Some can smile at you; others cannot. Maybe it is the fatigue, maybe it’s what they have witnessed overnight, and that thing they witnessed will stay with them and carry on forever. So not being able to smile and greet is totally understandable.
It took a pandemic from a respiratory pathogen to enlighten people that health care workers can be at risk of getting sick because they are doing their jobs. Maybe the thought was we were immune to other pathogens, and this one broke us. No, my dear readers, long before this, we have been dealing with other pathogens that might put our lives in danger. When we see patients with bloodborne pathogens like HIV and hepatitis just to name two, we don’t get to say no. I will pass on operating on this patient, and move to the next one. We happily take care of them and do not discriminate. The internist who is examining, the surgeon who is cutting, the nurse who is putting an IV, the phlebotomist drawing blood, the environmental services personnel who is cleaning the blood; all these people are scared and are at risk of contracting the disease, but that never stopped them! They keep at it with passion. Yes you might say they signed up for this, I agree, but I would argue that even signing up for this takes a lot of courage and resilience. Signing up to study long hours, to carry big loans, to spend sleepless nights in a row at the hospital, to risk contracting diseases every day, and to take a job at the hospital dealing with such risks daily; all this takes courage and sacrifice.
It took a pandemic to realize the toll of the job on health care workers. Now everyone is talking about mental health and how this virus will cause not only physical burnout but also a mental one! We also report on suicide because of the pandemic’s horrifying scene. Suicide and mental health problems are not new outcomes and creations of this pandemic. Suicide among medical students, residents, and physicians has been on the rise for a while now. In fact, a meta-analysis from December 2019 (before the pandemic) has shown that suicide among physicians is higher than the general population, particularly women physicians and that the rate of physician suicide in the U.S. is higher than that in Europe. The scariest part in all this is that the problem never uncovers itself until it’s too late. There is some kind of power within health care workers that makes them hide their real feelings. They just smile through the process until they are alone, and then, everything turns ugly.
As maternal-fetal medicine specialists, we deal with high-risk pregnancies, whether it is because of maternal morbidities or fetal anomalies. It is our job to try to achieve a healthy pregnancy for both mom and baby. When you are giving a patient bad news about her pregnancy potential or her current pregnancy, tears start to well up, the air in the room starts feeling heavy, and you feel like you are the devil for giving the bad news. All this, my readers, is something we carry home with us, and it has a toll on our mental health.
I know in this day and age access to health care has changed, technology and available resources online have sometimes created doubts and decreased trust in health care. I also know that some health care workers are seen as highly paid people (sometimes), that you can avoid seeing by just finding the answer online. But I hope this pandemic has brought back the confidence and trust in health care workers because at the end of the day there is nothing that can replace scientific facts given by someone who spent years studying and treating patients to be able to give optimal care.
Finally, it took a pandemic to reveal the “secret” of what health care workers are doing every day of their lives. This is no secret at all, but we chose to ignore its importance and validity until a pandemic hit us. Now that the “secret” is out, I hope that respect for the health care workers’ recommendations grows, especially with states opening back. Maybe now that people know how it affects the hospital workers, they will think twice before dismissing mitigation efforts.
Sarah Araji is an obstetrics-gynecology physician.
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