COVID: I can see the suffering in your eyes

As our surge approaches many more lives lost and overcrowded critically ill in the hospitals, I can see the pain in their eyes. No matter where you go on social media or who you run into, I can see the pain. I can see the helplessness. I can see the tears being held back. How can one be trained to save lives and not be able to? Not with this virus. 

How many lives lost is too many? How many patients hospitalized have to keep dying? How many times do we try to resuscitate? In the hands of the most qualified and trained. Trained to save lives. How much is too much? 

First, do no harm. That was the oath that physicians took. I don’t know what oath the nurses, respiratory therapists, and ancillary staff took, but I don’t think it was much different. What defines harm now? With trying to save the sickest’s lives, what constitutes doing no harm? The question of so many. Not giving unstudied drugs to patients grasping at life? So many false hopes of unproven drugs. Drugs that intuitively make no sense in the fight against a virus. Why would an antiparasitic be effective in the fight against a virus? We grasp at all costs. The cost of guilt that we didn’t give an unproven drug? Or a drug that could cause harm. Knowing that the patient is beyond that drug having any efficacy anyway. Why would we entertain such treatment? Why would we think we could fix the complications of COVID with a drug. There is no saving them. But, we still try. We still ponder. We still question. 

I see death and dying in their eyes. I see tears. I see holding back emotion. Just because I feel everything doesn’t mean that others do. This isn’t the way things are supposed to be. When they used to leave shifts, they felt accomplished. “I saved a life today.” “I got the patient the care they needed during a life-threatening situation.” That is no longer. Their jobs are no longer rewarding. But, they keep doing their jobs. Without rewards. 

Code after code. Death after death. Inability to resuscitate. The outcome of death for so many. 

Morgues full. Nowhere to put bodies. The bodies of loved ones. The bodies they couldn’t save. The bodies that used to speak. 

Suffering. So much suffering. Feeling inadequate with everybody. Feeling like we did harm when harm was done by the virus. Not them. 

What harm? There is no harm in a global pandemic. Who do we look to blame? The people strong enough to make the hard decisions. There is no blame in this fight. No one knew. No one knew that this virus was the King. No one knew we couldn’t protect others by allowing them to leave the hospitals. No one knew—especially not a politician. No one is to blame, except COVID 19. 

We did our best. We do our best. Sometimes our best is not good enough. This is the sole responsibility of the virus.

The name coronavirus is such because, underneath the microscope, he looks like he wears a crown. We know now that that crown is all too powerful. Most of us didn’t know this. He had so much power before anyone knew. He is the King of the world right now. He has overpowered us. 

We let him rule and replicate. We allowed him to mutate into a dictator. We allowed him to be the king that he mimics. Under a microscope. We made him bigger than that. 

A king that beats down all those that fight him. All families, all essential workers, all health care providers, and all doctors. We have given him rein. Not without a voice to plead not to. 

Beaten down by a virus that wears a crown. Our health care providers, nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists, and all the providers that upheld this fight should be wearing crowns and tiaras. Instead, they wear tears and emotions of helplessness and hopelessness. Of inadequacy. Emotions in their eyes and on their sleeves. Crying after every code. Mourning the loss of a great person. A patient affected by COVID. Not a COVID patient. A code that they had no control or say in. Lucid and speaking one minute and struggling to regain their cardiopulmonary function the next. Walking away, beaten down. 

Helpless, hopeless, and inability to resuscitate at the code blue. Their patient with cardiopulmonary collapse. Exhausted from chest compressions. To save that life. To save that wonderful person that they had grown to love and cherish as a person. Not a disease. A person. People are dying. Not COVID “infested” people. 

This is how I see it. This is the reality. A reality that only those in the hospital know. Their experience during this pandemic is awful. It is grueling. It wears on them. 

For those of us out here, we feel helpless. Wanting to do more. Not wanting to make their jobs worse. Not wanting to add to their helplessness. Trying to offer support. 

I don’t want to see death and dying. I want to hug them and say, “Thank you for your service. Thank you for being a warrior in this fight”. A hug so tight that they feel my compassion. Thank you for your resilience. Thank you for who and what you are. You are my hero. I am proud to know you. I will be here to help you pick up the pieces. I will be here for you. 

Heroes. Soldiers. Warriors. An army of resilience. 

I will be here when this is over. I will support you and lend an ear. I will babysit your children for some reprieve with your spouse. I will try to help. I will help your children understand why you missed a year of their lives. I will counsel them when they say they want to be doctors when they grow up. A chore I have never taken lightly. I might not be the best choice right now.

Let’s stop time. Let’s reclaim 2020. Let’s stop this crowned tyrant. Let’s stop him. Let’s regain our power.

Kelly Lisciandro is an internal medicine physician.

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