by Kathleen Kerr, 04/13/2020, Traverse City, MI
I am a healthcare provider. I work in outpatient primary care, not in the hospital, yet every day is still a roller coaster. This pandemic has brought out the best, and the worst, in our humanity.
I try and stay mentally and physically healthy by getting outside, cuddling with my sweet pup, reading, renewing my love for cooking at home. I have to stay strong for myself, for my patients. Yet I still absorb every depth of the matter my patients bring to me, and I cannot seem to separate my work and personal life.
I am sad. I am sad for the people and families who have suffered from the virus, a given. I am sad for those who have lost their jobs and face unfathomable financial burdens. I am sad for the children who may be hungry because they get their meals from school. I am sad for the children, women, and men who may be suffering from abuse at the expense of others with worsened mental health problems. I am sad for the minimum wage workers who are risking their lives, just to meet ends meet, supplying the food for our country, or helping in the background scenes of the hospitals. I am sad for my classmates and former nurse colleagues who work in the hospital setting and lack the access they should have to PPE to care for their patients. They may also suffer from trauma on a daily basis at work, perhaps isolated from their families, rendering them very much alone. If I did not mention how you may be suffering, I see and feel you. My heart breaks, for everyone.
I am helpless. Why did I send that patient with possible coronavirus with a worsening clinical status to the ER? There was nothing I could do for her, and apparently nothing the ER could do for her either. At what point do I send a patient to the ER if they are worsening, when I cannot clinically evaluate them except by telehealth? After this recent instance, do I wait until they are dying? Patients seem to think tests are of ample supply. They are not. Not in northern Michigan, anyway. I take the daily numbers with a grain of salt given the lack of testing available at this moment and my own ability or complete lack thereof to get one for you. I can listen, tell you to stay home, but there may not be much more I can do for you. It’s not my usual nature with medicine, to sit back, and not offer you a test or a medication to diagnose or fix your ailments.
I am fearful. I fear for my patients and do my best by hosting most office visits by telehealth to protect you. But am I missing something when I cannot place my hands on you? Yet I do not want to bring you to my office unless absolutely necessary, as I very much fear if I become infected I may kill one of my patients. I have accepted I may very well get the virus and that fear has long resided. I fear for our local hospital and the potential for a surge. If I am of more use if and when the time comes here, do I return to the bedside and work as a nurse at the hospital? I cannot stand to let my former nurse friends fight this without being there if I am needed.
I am angry. I am angry politics have been involved in health care. I am angry at our healthcare system. We knew we would be subject to a pandemic but we were not prepared. I am angry for the nurse friends I mentioned. They likely have compelling and eye opening stories to share but maybe fear for their jobs if they share their realities. At the same time, conspiracy theories and public distrust are rampant. There seems to be a great separation during a time we should be rallying together. I am angry when I look to social media for bits of encouragement or humor, and find pessimism instead. I find it selfish when people cling on to their temporary lack of boating rights in Michigan. Maybe it was overkill, but rules change when they are not followed, and one person’s actions can change the rules for everyone else. Such rants about rights being taken away for the purpose of social distancing makes me feel angry. We have become too focused on individualism.
Yet, I am hopeful. Businesses and Americans in their homes are making supplies for healthcare workers. Most people seem to be abiding by social distancing concepts. Families and friends find alternate ways to connect and support each other. With the passage of time, more studies can be performed to come up with accurate data about the virus, and we can get a better handle on treatment, etc.
And I am empathetic. I believe we are all empathetic and compassionate at heart when we break down the barriers created by our society. This pandemic has forced me to examine myself as a person but also as a healthcare provider. I don’t think I have ever been filled with so much compassion in my career. I have pondered many basic, yet difficult questions, to examine myself and in turn help others to find their own strength. Who am I? Who am I to my loved ones? What is my place in this world?
Finally, I am resilient. We are resilient. We will get through this. We will come through as different humanity, but I hope that through the losses and sacrifices we can glean some positivity and become better people.