It is said that everything that moves has a breaking point. Engineers understand this concept, and they have developed intricate methods to understand when metals will reach their breaking point if they sustain repeated back and forth stress.
It becomes crucial to understand that when metals break, the consequences have substantial implications as many industries rely on machines to be efficient and safe. If a machine shuts down due to the stress on the metal reaching its breaking point, the consequences are that it may cost millions of dollars and even cost lives.
Yet, for physicians, the same rules apply. After all, we are all moving beings. Even before the pandemic, 42% of all physicians had felt the weight of the back-and-forth stress leading to burnout. Burnout is a constellation of symptoms in which physicians feel demoralized, disconnected, apathetic, hopeless, and depersonalized. This leads to not being present with patients and to medical errors.
Burnout is associated with depression and even with suicide. Almost a quarter of all physicians are depressed, and more than 400 commit suicide per year. These numbers are pre-pandemic when we had to worry about “regular stressors,” not the mounting pressures that are accelerating us to our breaking points. In 2020, urologists were the specialists with the most burnout. It is no surprise that now critical care physicians are number one, with 51% of them experiencing burnout.
A recent American Medical Association survey published in June 2021 showed that 96% of doctors surveyed are fully vaccinated against Covid-19. Yet, the public divide, rage, and anger concerning vaccinations is quite impressive.
Many physicians filled with fear and anxiety, fearlessly and many with inadequate PPE, marched and showed up every day to take care of the sickest patients with limited information of what this virus was, could cause or how contagious it really was. But they showed up. It was just over a year ago, health care workers were applauded and cheered as heroes, yet now our attention span and anger has lashed out against those, who beyond their commitment to help others, continue to show up to care for the sickest.
In physician social media circles, physician deaths were documented, and many described long-haul symptoms, yet they still showed up. Once a vaccine was available, we welcomed a sigh of relief and a glimmer of hope. We could almost imagine that the dark days could come to an end.
We could see, hope, and yearn for normalcy. However, after months waiting for a vaccine, again hope was turned into anger and hate in an already tenuous state we were in. And now, so many of us are starting to deteriorate mentally as Delta has surged. And we are reliving the trauma, the fear that we could bring home a virus to our unvaccinated children.
I have seen many of the most committed and compassionate health care workers leave medicine. Posts in social media state to “Pray daily that God will renew their passion, joy, and contentment in their calling …because while the world fights over a shot, the medical field is fighting to keep their desire to serve.” We are no longer hailed as heroes who served when most stayed home, courageous to battle infections in the front lines when no one knew what would happen.
When we continue to champion the importance of vaccines which 96% of us have received, we are now called murderers, have been ambushed, or have been yelled at by mobs because we ask for others to get vaccinated or wear a mask. Passion and the ability to speak freely about a topic are the backbones of American ideals. However, terrorizing, demoralizing, ambushing, and screaming at physicians who are needing the strength to find the compassion to continue to treat is misplaced.
I applaud and admire those who are willing to die for their cause. Initially, I was angry. However, I then admired that some are so passionate about not believing in COVID or vaccines that they are willing to die of it and with it. I am not willing to die for that, but I admire your conviction. My hope is that when we all look back at our lives, we have no regrets that we died for the right causes if we believed in them. I hope there will be no regret that the cause you were willing to die for was based on misinformation because, sadly, many people can benefit from creating misinformation. It is not physicians. We are not benefitting from this. We are suffering.
We, as physicians, have taken an oath to protect you, to keep you safe. To do our best even when we were in harm’s way. How can patients continue to trust us to have knowledge that we know is in your best interest for you to remove your gallbladder, to perform your emergency heart surgery, or take care of your children, if you cannot trust us saying vaccines are safe? 96% of us believe in them, and thus we are fully vaccinated.
Of course, you can focus on the 4% to prove a point. Of course, you can continue to ambush us, call us murderers, harass us while we speak up at school board meetings. Even if we do not live through this personally, we see it chipping away at our humanity as physicians.
We collectively suffer. Once the back-and-forth stress has reached the breaking point, what is next? Who will care for you? Who will have the compassion to fix your broken bones after your car crash? Who will carry you with empathy when you are diagnosed with cancer? Moving parts, metals, and humans have a breaking point.
Let’s show each other love. Let’s stop humiliating each other. Let’s eliminate unnecessary suffering as we have all had enough. We all are hurting. This is what makes us human. Let us find humanity not disunity. Let’s never find out what our human breaking point is, but instead, let’s work to unite humanity.
Diana Londoño is a urologist and can be reached at her self-titled site, Dr. Diana Londono, on Twitter @DianaLondonoMD, and on her blog. She is one of the 10 percent of U.S. urologists who are women, and 0.5 percent who are Latina and female.
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