How do we contextualize an unprecedented moment in American history?
As a healthcare worker with more than three decades of training and clinical work under my belt, I have a few thoughts about this moment in American history:
The Metaphor of War is Inaccurate
This is an undeclared war against the coronavirus. What healthcare workers are going through is war. With such strictly limited resources, we must apply wartime strategies to care for as many people as possible.
As our Mayor, Bill De Blasio, said in today's briefing, "this is a war with many-many fronts. The only way to get through it is to use our military, all HCP (Health Care Personnel). [To create] a national enlistment of all doctors and nurses and move them to areas of need as it arises around the country."
De Blasio is urging the president to enlist all doctors and nurses across America. Indeed, we're not only at war, we are on a battlefield.
In wartime, people hunker down together - especially those most vulnerable. Not so with this virus. Social distancing causes even the sick to care for themselves in isolation, as they check in with others by phone.
The "mask or no mask" question
On the streets and in grocery shops, neighbors in self protection mode aggressively condemn each other for not standing the mandatory 6 feet apart. After close to three weeks of social distancing, why only now are we being asked to wear non-medical masks when going outside.
As a nurse, when I hear the word droplets, I follow precautions, I wear a mask. Any health care worker who doesn't receive the flu vaccine is required by law to wear a mask from the beginning of flu season in October through May or June in all patient areas in the hospital - elevators, patient rooms, hallways, and in clinic.
However, during these perilous times and with supplies stretched thin, the medical field is our first priority. The public has been repeatedly asked to spare PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) for medical people.
Healthcare Workers Are To COVID-19 as Fireman and Police Were To 9/11
Doctors and nurses working frontline without proper PPE is like rushing into a burning building in a tee-shirt, jeans, and bare feet. Are we being asked to do something that was not asked of our firefighters on 9/11?
But every evening at 7pm in NYC, #Clappingforcarers erupts in a massive round of global applause. What a profoundly glorious acknowledgement of Health Care and Essential Workers. Walking home from my ten hour shift at an Upper East Side hospital, I stand on 3rd Ave overwhelmed with this outpouring of gratitude that brings tears to my eyes. I am in awe of how life affirming this is. And how many beautiful people are recognizing our bravery and duty to care.
We Don't Know What We Don't Know
We don't know. We don't know how this virus works in the body . . . how long it takes an individual to fully recover and no longer shed it. We don't know when it will be safe to socialize again.
On Monday, the US Navy hospital ship Comfort sailed into the west side docks with 1,000 beds. As of Thursday, they've only filled 20 beds due to a tangle of military protocols and bureaucratic hurdles. Frustration is growing because this isn't relieving our overburdened hospitals at all.
But here's the don't-know-what-we-don't-know of it, the world's top researchers do not fully understand how this pathogen works although we're months into the existence of this virus.
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