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I am blessed to be based at a hospital that has had a decent supply of PPE this entire time. And when we got close to getting too short, friends of mine donated N95s and made cloth masks, button headbands, face shields, and scrub caps in a matter of days. Our hospital now hands these out to patients and visitors—saving N95s and surgical masks for the healthcare workers. Our hospital system purchased reusable gowns so that we wouldn’t be relegated to wearing trash bags. That doesn’t mean that I don’t know people that are reusing the same N95 for weeks at a time. That doesn’t mean that I don’t know people that haven’t had appropriate PPE. That doesn’t mean that the PPE shortage isn’t real.
I have not been directly and knowingly exposed to COVID except for one patient. This is because I’m a trauma surgeon, and thankfully our frontline healthcare workers have stayed healthy. So as a surgical intensivist at my hospital, I haven’t had to see a lot of the patients directly. That doesn’t mean that our hospital isn’t seeing these patients. That doesn’t mean that other hospitals aren’t seeing even larger numbers. That doesn’t mean that some services are emotionally and physically exhausted from the toll of taking care of COVID patients. That doesn’t mean I don’t know healthcare workers that have had COVID.
I haven’t lost a single close friend or family member to COVID. That doesn’t mean that I can’t make a list of people that have died. That doesn’t mean that I can deny the existence of the disease or its mortality rate. Interestingly, I haven’t lost a single close friend or family member to a heart attack or a stroke either. However, I don’t deny that heart disease kills more people than cancer—despite losing three family members to cancer and having friends diagnosed with cancer at all ages. That doesn’t mean that I won’t know personally someone that has died of COVID before the year is over.
My job hasn’t really changed (people still get hurt, people still get appendicitis, etc). I still work the same calls, and they haven’t gotten any easier. That doesn’t mean that I don’t believe people are losing their jobs. That doesn’t mean that I deny the difficulty of putting food on the table for so many families. That doesn’t mean that my close friends, who two months ago were financially very sound, aren’t scared of losing their own homes.
My kids aren’t in school so I’m not trying to juggle home schooling and working from home. I’m not in an abusive relationship. My home is my safest place. That doesn’t mean that parents aren’t struggling to teach geometry while waiting for their next Zoom meeting to start. With reopening, that doesn’t mean that parents aren’t struggling to figure out childcare. That doesn’t mean that women, men, and children aren’t being beaten and/or killed in abusive relationships where they are stuck at home with their abusers.
I miss traveling more than I miss any other luxury of the pre-COVID era. That doesn’t mean I’m immediately making plans to travel anywhere. It doesn’t mean that I’m cashing in on cheap flights or even planning road trips. I’m not getting in a car with anyone other than my immediate family (the ones that already live in my house).
I’m an introvert. I love “sheltering-in-place” even when not ordered to. That doesn’t mean that people (especially children) aren’t suffering from a lack of socialization. That doesn’t mean that depression and anxiety aren’t worsened by social isolation.
I’m a gun owner. I believe in freedom of speech. I believe in human rights. I believe in science. That doesn’t mean I think it’s ok to storm a capital building with guns in tow. (This is terrorism, it just wasn’t labeled as such based on skin color and religious belief.) That doesn’t mean I think it’s ok to deny someone else’s struggle or existence.
I am almost completely (and luckily) unaffected by COVID—other than my email inbox from work where I get emails from three different hospitals two to three times a day. That doesn’t mean that we aren’t all struggling in different ways. That doesn’t mean that I deny a pandemic. This doesn’t mean that I say the economic turndown is a hoax—just to curtail any progress we’ve made in treating COVID. That doesn’t mean I promote conspiracy theories and put my friends and the public at risk.
What DOES it mean? It means I wear a mask any time I’m out of my house or car. It means I cover my hair at work and wear a mask in the hallways (even if my colleagues don’t). It means ordering take out—even for our anniversary—skipping parties, spending one-on-one time with my children, speaking out for others more affected than myself, continually learning and applying legitimate science to the situation, calling out misinformation and trying to prevent its spread, and being responsible for myself while watching out for my communities. It means continuing to be cautious despite what politicians are saying, following the actual numbers, and listening to those that are actually treating the disease. It means I stop putting money, pre-COVID luxuries, and privilege of being unaffected at the top of my priority list. (But don’t get me wrong…unless you’re doing your best to do the same, there’s no gaining ground on my new list of priorities. Because I still hurt. And don’t forget how truthful social media CAN be when it comes to “social distancing”.)