As I reflect on Independence Day, I think of soldiers that sacrificed their own lives for others – present and future. They knew what they were facing, and yet, continued to push forward. They imperfectly led our nation through unprecedented waters with wisdom and perseverance. Today, we find ourselves in unprecedented waters – questioning our country, our leaders, our friends, and our doctors. Breaking silence, I am answering the question, “How do you feel?” I want my kids to look back someday and read my thoughts. For them.
In March, based on accounts of COVID-19 from colleagues across the country, I feared for my life. At work, I prayed with nurses who were in a state of panic. We honestly felt impending death or doom. We had participated in teleconferences and read articles regarding the shear chaos COVID-19 creates. While we understood the populations most at risk, we also knew COVID-19 does not completely discriminate on comorbidities, age, race, or status. We knew it didn’t play by any rules. We were afraid – not because of the news or politics – but because we understand medicine and we did not understand COVID-19.
Fast forward to lockdowns. Times were equally hard. Jobs were lost. People were stressed, depressed, and upset. Physicians were left financially struggling as non-emergent surgeries were canceled. Hospitals were empty and going bankrupt for the same reason. Nurses were furloughed, and wards were empty. During this time, it felt less patriotic to be a doctor. We felt questioned, attacked, and hurt. As an obstetrician, it is not unusual for me to feel attacked on social media, but this was different. Doctors felt ashamed and confused. While we knew COVID-19 was lethal, deadly, unpredictable, and very contagious, we were left feeling like we had to be on the defense. Was a complete shut-down mandatory? Was it the right decision? We were also left wondering. Physician leaders were receiving death threats. Every detail of medical advice was questioned and rebutted by those that became experts watching the news or reading opinions and articles on the internet.
I have been a doctor for 20 years. I got into medical school because I was smart. I worked hard to get there. You don’t get into medical school taking the easy road. Are there people smarter than doctors? Certainly. But my point is this: Doctors are not dumb. We know when to worry. We can see sick from a mile away. If you have been a mechanic of a B-1 fighter plane for 20 years, I would hope you could see a problem from a mile away. I wouldn’t pretend that I could read an article on Facebook and know as much as you do about your plane. You know more than I. You have dedicated your life to learning as much as you can about this plane. Also, you have experience. You have learned not only through books, but also because of what you have seen, what you have touched, what you have smelled, what you have heard. You have learned from what cannot be put into textbooks.
I probably have too many feelings to be a good leader. Don’t worry about me, I don’t sit at home sad or depressed about most of the comments I read these days. However, I do feel a little insulted. This is not a scam. Yes, many people will get COVID-19 and have very minimal to no symptoms. Yes, there are problems with reporting. Yes, there are problems with testing. Yes, not all governments have been completely transparent.
But here’s what I do know (because I have dedicated my life to know about things like this). COVID-19 will kill and wound many – possibly with long term consequences – and the kicker is that we cannot predict accurately who will become the sickest. I don’t want this virus. I don’t want to take a chance to be the one. I want a vaccine that works. I want an antiviral that works. I want a protocol that works. I truly care about my patients, my family, and my country, and I don’t want you to get it either. I hate wearing a mask. But, honestly, after 24 years of wearing them, I’ve adapted. I don’t like wearing a seat belt, either. I remember when that became an intrusive law. But here’s the thing, the country was spending a lot of resources taking care of ejected bodies. The evidence was there – seatbelts save lives and money. The government got involved because it was in the best interest of the country with an overabundance of evidence that showed other than inconvenience, seatbelts did no harm and worked.
It’s hard. COVID-19 is still a mystery. Most people won’t get that sick. The news is confusing. Recommendations are changing. There are political advantages to taking sides. Masks feel restrictive. We need herd immunity. We want freedom. We want to breathe fresh air.
And yet, I know this. Masks are safe, help mitigate infection, and will save lives. My hospital is getting full. Younger and older people are starving for air. Doctors are stressed, worn out, defeated, and insulted.
I also know this. I know God, hope, and peace. I know how to love others in times of despair. I have been graciously given the opportunity to sit with patients in their best and their dying days. It’s an honor. I am not afraid to die, but I don’t want to. I know what my tomorrow holds. I just pray that we, as a country, as humankind, use this pandemic as an opportunity to come together, united, holding each other up even when that means our own personal agendas get placed on hold. I pray that this is a stirring, and that we use this momentum to be Jesus to others.
Please be safe, be smart, wash your hands, be kind, be loving, and wear a mask when you can’t social distance (at least for now). And pray.
Whitney Mascorro is an obstetrics-gynecology physician.
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