There’s a plague of locusts sweeping through eastern Africa and a novel, deadly viral pandemic at our doorsteps. It’s hard in these tumultuous times to suppress the feeling that we are facing a doom of biblical proportions. It’s easier to let the negativity bias dominate our psyche – to focus on the negative despite all the evidence that there is hope, there is light, there is humanity, even in these dark times.
This pandemic has pushed me to the brink of my own anxieties. As a healthcare worker seeing sick patients on a daily basis, a physician with patients on transplant lists and immunosuppressive drugs, and as a daughter with aging parents, every aspect of this pandemic worries me. While last week I treated my anxiety by chewing on a steady dose of antacids, this week I have shifted my perspective.
I recently posted on Twitter about this pandemic and the feeling of impending devastation that healthcare workers are facing; I compared that feeling to the anxiety of watching a tsunami as it inches towards the shore. The hundreds of responses I received since have moved me and changed my thinking. I received notes from soldiers describing similar feelings prior to deployment, from firemen and women attesting to the same before entering a burning building, and from patients describing a similar fear while waiting for the results of a biopsy.
This helped me realize that we are not the first, nor the last, of humankind to face such trying times, and we are certainly better equipped than our ancestors. The strength of my fellow citizens helped brace me for the coming challenge, and helped strengthen my resolve to go to work with steady hands.
Each day I wake up to a group text. My physician friends across the country, brave and brilliant women and men whom I trained with, sharing with me their Covid-19 tolls:
“2 new cases on my unit today; 17 with results pending”
“1 new confirmed in the ICU – 2 suspected, awaiting results- 1 age 30s”
“Hospital running low on n95 masks”
The haunting facts we share are necessary. They help us keep tabs on ourselves, our health systems, and let us know when personal calls are needed for check-ins. However, I have promised myself that along with reviewing the daily Covid-19 woes, I will also try to take some time each day to reflect on the human stories of this pandemic.
The human stories include those of my staff, some of whom are at retirement age, who come in to work every single day, overcoming their own fears to help participate in patient care. They also include those of fellow physicians. I have seen psychiatrists and therapists offering free and extended hours to hospital staff and sick patients alike. I have talked to physicians nationwide who have found themselves buying new scrubs and new textbooks on ICU care – preparing physically and intellectually for the challenges ahead.
This week, I started asking my patients how they are coping. I called my 77 year-old patient with heart failure, who told me about his grand-kids, teenagers who are checking in regularly to make sure he has all of his medications and groceries. My renal transplant patient has had calls from members of her church, offering to support her as she protects her suppressed immune system in the walls of her home.
These are the stories that will outlive this virus. There are certainly dark and unprecedented days ahead, but perseverance might be the most underrated of human qualities. And I am certain that together, we will persevere.