Leadership | 07.02.21
The Stresses of COVID-19 and How to Help
It has been quite a year. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in the United States last year, physicians have faced a large number of stressors. In the early days, one of the major stresses was the uncertainty surrounding the virus. The uncertainty of how to treat it, the uncertainty of who had it, the uncertainty of how to test, and the uncertainty of what was going to happen to yourself and your family. In the areas that were hardest hit early, such as New York City and northern New Jersey, where I live and practice, there was also the sheer exhaustion. Many of us were working long hours, much longer than usual, and many physicians helped by working in areas outside of their usual expertise.
Physicians worked in ICUs who had not worked there since residency or, for some specialists, ever. The sheer number of patients and the severity of their illness, with no specific treatments at that time, was both physically and emotionally exhausting. We witnessed more deaths at our hospitals in those months than some hospitals see in over a year.
And then there was the fear. People were afraid, because they didn’t understand it. Some of our colleagues retired or took leaves just as things got really bad. That led to a lot of resentment and anger. It also led to camaraderie among those who banded together and did everything they could to push through and help the patients. There was also the isolation- since we did not know how much risk we were placing ourselves in, most of us isolated from our families, either living in separate parts of the house, or at times living away from our families. I personally lived in a separate room and stayed away from my wife and children at the beginning and then spent a week staying in a hotel.
Since those early days, the stresses have been less, as we have found more treatments and gotten through. But with each successive wave, we have seen more hope but more fatigue. Since the approval of vaccines to treat COVI-19, there have been a new series of stresses. Getting vaccination programs running and dealing with myriad rules regarding patient eligibility have added one level of stress. Additionally, there is a different kind of stress. It is the stress of wanting to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as you can in the face of vaccine hesitancy, knowing how safe and effective these vaccines are and how they can help end this pandemic and get us back to whatever our new normal will look like.
MSPs have a tremendous role to play in helping medical staff and healthcare systems, in general, get through to the other side of this pandemic. Obviously, helping to quickly, competently, and appropriately credential new physicians during surge periods was extremely important early and could be again if there are future surges. But, mostly being a trusted support on whom the physicians and allied health providers can rely is extremely important.
Most importantly, MSPs can be advocates for vaccination. Getting vaccinated yourself does not just protect yourself and your immediate loved ones, but it helps make the virus much harder to transmit. Each one of us who receives the vaccine makes it so that future surges cannot happen. While news coverage has emphasized that the vaccines are potentially not as effective against the variants, in actuality the vaccines have been highly effective against them. The vaccines were much more efficacious than we originally hoped, so the efficacy of the vaccines against variants is still extraordinarily good. Ultimately, if the virus cannot spread, then it cannot mutate further, which will prevent future variants and spread. Helping to convince others to get vaccinated as soon as they can do so is the most important thing that any of us can do right now. Doing so will help us move on from this pandemic and will make these stresses of the last year something we will have all overcome together. I, for one, cannot wait.