This Is What Keeps Doctors Going During a Pandemic
When we’re stripped of our resources, our science, and our egos, there’s only one thing left
We are in a bizarre state of limbo within this crisis. We feel hopelessly behind, yet still, attempt courageous efforts to be preemptive. Looking down the barrel of coronavirus, my medical residency program had a fantasy of control. We hoped we might identify which services were essential and which were not, staff physicians appropriately, and stagger work hours to minimize exposures and allow some to be available for backup when others inevitably fell victim to either quarantine or the virus.
Imagine our dismay when we, overnight, lost five residents to quarantine. Imagine how our morale tanked when we realized we could not be there for one another in person, and when the only way we could communicate was via text message because there simply weren’t enough of us to cover all the shifts. We suddenly felt we were no longer a team but now just individuals — numbers waiting to fall — who were, more or less, on our own.
These days, I feel a sort of odd belonging in the hospital. Here, I’ve had the privilege of seeing the best and the worst of humanity. For every physician willing to risk their life to be on the front lines, I’ve heard another say, “I didn’t sign up for this.” Resentments escalate quickly as we blame our departments for not providing enough protection, some blaming the government for a lack of guidance, and all of us judging each other for how we’ve chosen to respond, or not respond. Those who are choosing to distance are shamed for being selfish, and those who are working overtime are shamed for being “martyrs.”
We learn how to deliver bad news like letters we didn’t write, and to wash our hands frequently.
Complicating our response is our career full of trauma. The responsibility over life and the potential for risking our own trigger memories of losing prior patients. There is nothing more painful than knowing a patient’s poor prognosis, and being able to offer nothing. We’ve been taught to internalize this guilt, however, because we can’t afford to be lost to failure. So we learn how to deliver bad news…