This has been an extremely challenging quarantine season for me, not so much because of the restrictions posed by the mandate to stay home, as I am still going to the hospital daily for patient rounds; my biggest struggle has been watching the toxic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on many in my immediate social circle.
Even as a psychiatrist, this has been an extremely challenging quarantine season for me, not so much because of the restrictions posed by the mandate to stay home, as I am still privileged to be going to the hospital daily to do patient rounds, my biggest struggle has been watching the toxic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on many in my immediate social circle, my community, and my coworkers, I called that phenomenon “COVID-20” in my recent article in the Psychiatric Times.
To read the “Heros Work Here” sign displayed on the entrance of my hospital, then minutes later hear the news about one of my frontline colleagues, an emergency room physician, taking her own life, can throw anyone spinning down an emotional rollercoaster. The cause of death and suffering for the frontline staff is not always the physical complications of the virus, it is rather the toll that compassion fatigue and provider burnout take on their minds and souls, trauma can indeed suck the joy out of life, trauma can literally kill our heroes.
Is it really worth anything to cheer up someone who is visibly caught on fire? Isn’t it our duty as systems and individuals to lend a helping hand to someone who is drowning and ease their burden? This social distancing thing is a very destructive, lonely, and isolating experience if we continue to treat it as a social death sentence rather than what it was intended to mean, a safety measure through keeping some physical distance from others-I am afraid that we have been silent bystanders while this psychological pandemic is killing our heroes. Growing up I was always taught that heros survive until the end and they defeat the “enemy.” I always thought that heros were not supposed to die.
The concept of the wounded healer is very much an unacknowledged reality in the medical field, our invisible wounds are the big elephant in the room that we tend to consciously and subconsciously ignore. The bad news is that ignoring something does not make it go away, if we don’t pay attention to the psychosocial effects of COVID-19, we will spend lots of time cleaning up its messy and heavy legacy.
Early prevention is always better and cheaper than late intervention, those on the frontlines are humans too, even machines need breaks or they will break down. They are family members and have loved ones who they might have sent away or haven’t touched in many weeks for their own protection. It is wonderful that these superheroes who are wearing masks not capes are receiving accolades, gifts, and discounts, but what they might be missing is the human bond that makes all the difference.
I am reminded of the story of the Golden Gate Bridge survivor who decided to jump because no one cared to keep eye contact with him, smile at him, or ask why he was on the bridge that day. Let us pay attention to each other, because a small act of kindness can literally save lives.
When a superhero dies, the town turns into a ghost city and the “bad guys” start to spread corruption, when our frontline staff who are the walking wounded and profusely bleeding, physically, emotionally, or spiritually die, we lose as a society, and it is a shame on all of us. The cause of death is for the most part preventable and the remedy is simple, it is human connection, our heroes deserve every drop of it, heroes are not supposed to die.
Dr Reda is a Practicing Psychiatrist, Providence Healthcare System, Portland, OR. He reports no conflicts of interest concerning the subject matter of this article.