The last two years have nearly drained my soul to the last drop. There have been so many moments that have been tear-stained, hopeless, dark, full of loss, and covered in blood. We have faced a nearly insurmountable amount of death and debility from COVID-19 in addition to the very unexpected undeserved scorn from some of our patients and their families about COVID-19 being a real diagnosis in addition to their associated treatments.
On top of this, the health care industry, which pretends not to care about money but only patient well-being, has been intermittently furloughing providers. I have imagined them biting their nails over their coffers. Many hospitals continue to attempt to justify constant intermittent furloughing. The insurance companies of course now are trying every game to justify not paying for visits, frequently changing what they will bill for and deny. I was one of the lucky ones as my main hospital fought very hard to assure there were no mass continued episodic furloughs. We were asked to reduce shifts only once, which is a blessing compared to most other facilities. Literally, we have been living on a tightrope for nearly two and a half years in nearly every aspect of our lives.
Early on when there were no vaccines, we worried we would bring it to our families causing a persistent low gut sinking guilt sensation at potentially being the agents that would kill our loved ones. I did have COVID-19 early on and to avoid giving it to my family had prepared a location in the bowels of our house under construction for my transition, complete with a plastic container filled with whatever I had the forethought to add plus a cot, sleeping bag, and pillow.
I had severe COVID-19 and unbeknownst to my family, honestly was not sure I was going to survive. We had no treatments and knew little in those early months. I remember laying in my 5 x 10-foot area just praying my family stayed healthy, even bargaining to the empty dark room my death, if necessary, for their health. I laid there for two weeks trying to project positivity over facetime with my children. Fortunately, after two weeks with only one hospital evaluation and declined admission, I survived. It took nearly three months to breathe well, let alone do anything active. I was lucky and healthy to begin with, on no medications and athletic but still, it ravaged me.
Health care providers are plagued by anxiety and depression baseline, although often we hide it or pay for therapy in cash to avoid insurance knowing because we are so penalized when attempting to obtain disability insurance if anything smacking of psych shows on the record. This pandemic rollercoaster of being shining stars and then burning asteroids to devil incarnate has not helped. Every day my colleagues and I frequently mutter the mantra of “I hate my job” or “why am I doing this to myself,” but are trapped by the ridiculous debt that medical schools foist upon their students. It is heartbreaking how many colleagues I have seen breakdown, cry, and rage to the sky within this dreamscape it has become.
To imagine that we have seemed to finally come off the last surge slope and there is still an ever-present thought it will likely return in the winter and become at least a seasonal threat just as the 1918 influenza still plagues us in its less virulent altered annual form is a small hope but still defeating. Also, wondering if the global population will finally accept the vaccination because the likelihood of an annual need is real, or will this country remain divided by colors of red and blue and let that simple divide control the course of life and death?
I have attempted to burn the anger, sadness, and fear with exercise, and it does help to avoid the rabbit hole or the temptation to over-imbibe. Many of my colleagues have readily admitted their alcohol consumption has drastically risen after each shift to chase away the shadows. We are trying to heal. We talk among ourselves, and I imagine in some small form this is what soldiers suffering from PTSD do with each other.
Now, we are on the cusp of what feels like the spark of potentially World War III and I must force myself to breathe and not immediately seethe. There is obviously never a correct time to en masse kill innocent people, but our world has just lost over 6 million people and counting to a disease that swept over the continents in a handful of months to now transition to purposely and violently killing civilians over the want to reclaim a false sense of greatness. Every country should be stepping up and shouting out. I sincerely want this world to be full of hope and prosperity for every country, but not at the expense of another. I want this world not to be hopeless but hopeful.
I have asked my spouse how they would feel if I was drafted if our world follows this dark path. I feel internally compelled to join just like my initial thoughts about New York early on during the pandemic before it rushed to our hospital doors. I want the dream of family dinners, peace with neighbors of any political leaning or religion, absolute freedom of speech with an end to the attack on common sense, and an end to the pandemic and for this to not be the moment that becomes the precursor to the next great world war.
Dr. White is a hospitalist at Wooster Community Hospital in Wooster, Ohio, and is PRN at the Cleveland Clinic Mercy Hospital. She earned her medical degree from the University of Utah School of Medicine, Salt Lake City, and completed her residency at Grant Medical Center, Columbus, Ohio. When not attending hospital meetings or on shift, she corals children, cooks, undertakes various art projects and hits the cross fit gym.