Sometimes I really look forward to something new. An alien race arriving on earth would be a nice start. I think we could all use a change in the news cycle. Because I am very tired of thinking about, talking about, and especially treating COVID-19.
In all of my years of medical practice, I have never seen anything that taxed the system and caused so much mayhem, while simultaneously producing such vicious division across the land.
I get it. This little virus that circumnavigated the globe has caused death, disability, and economic devastation. And along the way, the way it has been handled has been generally dreadful.
A deadly pandemic should be the last thing inextricably linked to politics and culture, but alas, here we are. And because of this, the messaging on everything from lockdowns to closures to masks and vaccination has had the aura of accusation, counter-accusation, and deep distrust.
Mind you, the problems come from many directions. Those opposed to vaccination, those unwilling to believe COVID is ‘a thing’ are willing to accept any conspiracy theory and hear the advice of anyone with the vaguest pseudo-scientific credentials. Bad advice shared on the already toxic platforms of social media has made things worse. The consistent disbelief in reasonable advice has cost too many lives.
On the other hand, the political, scientific, and medical leadership are also culpable. Expert guidelines on lockdowns, for instance, led to increased poverty, rising addiction, and lost educational opportunities. They have condescendingly dismissed the anxieties of the populace regarding vaccination, and continue to make every effort to crush academic dissent, which is a necessary feature of the scientific process. And most recently (and I have witnessed these discussions) some physicians have begun to suggest that those who are unvaccinated do not deserve medical care. This attitude is beyond reprehensible.
However, some hard facts remain. People continue to die of COVID-19. The vaccinated fare much better than the unvaccinated. And hospital emergency departments and intensive care units, even regular medical units, are strained to capacity.
Sadly, it isn’t only those with COVID who are suffering right now. Over the past weeks, those with routine medical problems have unnecessarily suffered or died, not only in large teaching centers but in small suburban and rural hospitals. Not because of coronavirus, but because there were no beds in larger centers where they might receive care for their heart attacks, strokes, sepsis, or trauma.
I have stood by the bedside of the heart attack victim who waited 24 hours for hope of transfer and watched him leave this life. My friends and colleagues across the land can repeat the same stories. COVID is a problem. But downstream from it, there are many others. Helicopters are busy with respiratory failure from the pandemic and not available for car crashes. Ambulances, overwhelmed with transports from the local community, can’t take patients to higher levels of care either.
What results is anxiety and grief. Because we do not live in a society with endless resources or endless options, no matter how much we are accustomed to the idea. These days, hospitals struggle to have enough oxygen, enough cardiac monitors, sufficient ventilators, and most days, even beds into which the sick of every variety may rest.
This says nothing of the ultimate consequences of canceled biopsies, colonoscopies, or mammograms; the routine surgeries to restore function and reduce pain, also stopped for lack of capacity.
Those of us immersed in this cauldron of suffering are weary. Whether we are seeing the sickest of the sick in larger centers or simply trying to stabilize the dying far from the city, I cannot recall a time of such hopelessness and exhaustion among hospital staff or EMS workers. It is producing a kind of numbness. It will, inevitably, produce early retirements, substance abuse, PTSD, and sadly, suicides.
The world will continue to argue about COVID-19. I am sympathetic to elements of both sides of the pandemic clash. But as my colleagues and I stand daily at the edge of too many potential graves, I can say that this is real. And we only have so much left in us.
Please consider vaccination, or at least be careful around the vulnerable. If not for you, then for the neighbor or their child who might not even have COVID but who will need whatever we still have left to offer.
We have seen too much. A break would be nice.
Even some aliens.
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