Physicians Shouldn’t Be Heard Only During a Pandemic
I know that COVID-19 has dominated the headlines for quite some time, and I’m sorry in advance, but yeah, this is another COVID-19 article. I’m not an infectious disease expert, and I’m not here to talk about the possible health benefits of black seed oil, vitamin C, or Alex Jones’s anti-covid toothpaste.
The anti-vaxxer movement and the virulent spread of e-cigarettes helped highlight what happens when physicians and scientists are silent on social media – pseudoscience and flat out bad advice rise to fill the void. Of course both of these movements have swung in the other direction as more knowledgeable voices found prominence, but that’s not without many unfortunate cases of measles and vape induced lung injury first causing people to second guess the misinformation.
With our current situation, there are a LOT of learning points. Chief amongst them is what happens when doctors stay out of (or get involved in) public policy. The national stockpiles were woefully understocked. The pandemic response team was dismantled (in 2018). The CDC lost huge amounts of funding. The list goes on and on. On the other hand, having an experienced physician in the room where decisions are made has had a significantly positive impact. Of course, like vaccines, statins, and social distancing, it’s difficult to quantify the impact of something when all you’re left with is the absence of a bad outcome.
What’s not difficult, is to learn from what happened with this outbreak. We’ve seen a rapid shift towards telemedicine adoption, and a lag in the deployment of testing kits. We’ve also seen that rapid adoption of a potential wonder drug treatment (hello Hydroxychloroquine) might actually result in MORE deaths, and make it difficult for people with lupus and rheumatoid arthritis to get refills on their HCQ prescriptions. Society as a whole has come to realize.
As a trainee, I’ve read heart wrenching stories about people in my position forced to work with inadequate PPE, and ultimately succumbing to this virus. I agree that medicine is a field that demands sacrifice, but I disagree that someone who signed up for this job should accept improper protection at the risk of their own life. In my own program, residents have come down with the coronavirus despite adequate PPE; so I can only imagine how those with less equipment must feel like. Having spent time on the Covid unit myself, I got a taste of what my friends in New York and Chicago were dealing with on a larger scale, and an every day basis for the past several weeks. Of course, I’m fortunate enough to work in a state that was not in the top 3 hit by coronavirus, and whose leadership includes a pro-active governor and an experienced physician.
We need to be more vocal on the policy level – and while it may not be as sexy as deploying a stent into a thrombosed LAD or as intellectually titillating as making a breakthrough in the science of atherosclerosis, it is arguably just as necessary. We don’t need to be running for office, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt to write to one’s Congress representative (https://www.house.gov/representatives/find-your-representative), and sign with your name and job title. Let them know how many people’s lives you impact, and tell them to provide you with aid. I’m not just talking about masks and gowns. I’m talking about hazard pay and disability benefits. If I suffer complications related to coronavirus, I most likely got it because of my job, not because I went to the grocery store one time last week. I want to know my family won’t get sacked with a huge bill because of that. As a physician, I’m fortunate enough to expect an increase in pay when I finish training, but I work alongside many other healthcare providers who are not so fortunate – they shouldn’t have to worry about financial calamity just for doing their job and helping their fellow countrymen.
Several iterations of coronavirus relief aid have been put out by Congress, and trillions of dollars have been disbursed. I’m glad to know that Shake Shack was able to secure 10 million dollars to pay its employees, but I’d like to know what has been done for the residents in NY who died from complications relating to Covid. What’s more is that we are now starting to see the consequences of the Covid scare – the dramatic down tick in strokes, STEMI activations and other acute illnesses doesn’t mean America suddenly got healthier – it means that a lot of these people were staying home, and our hospitals will need to be prepared to deal with the sequelae of these conditions as people start to come out of the woodwork.
In a climate where the aid given to businesses and Wallstreet far outweighs that given to the front line providers, I can only say that we physicians are not blameless. Ultimately, these are just the frustrated ramblings of another trainee who has seen so many of his colleagues impacted negatively one way or another, all while the public is more concerned with being able to mow their lawn than the wellbeing of those on the front line. As Dr. Fauci (who, by the way, might be getting nominated to be Vanity Fair’s Sexiest Man Alive) once said: “you just have a job to do. Even when somebody’s acting ridiculous, you can’t chide them for it. You’ve got to deal with them. Because if you don’t deal with them, then you’re out of the picture.”
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