Dr. Jeff Kane: Hazards in health care
We hear daily that the coronavirus pandemic is hard on health care workers. We recognize that they’re exposed, overwhelmed and undersupplied, but what exactly is their experience?
A doctor in a Brooklyn hospital writes, “One can tell that health care providers are suffering. They are doing one resuscitation after another and you can tell that it takes a toll on them. In the last few days, I have seen physicians make not just one call to families informing them that their relative has died, but one after another after another. After several unsuccessful resuscitation attempts over just a couple of hours, a sense of unreality sets in … The doctors and nurses are affected, but perhaps they don’t quite yet know how. There is no time to figure this out, either. They have to carry on and just keep working. I think there may be major mental PTSD-like health issues resulting from this. Nobody has ever seen anything like it.”
Despite their best efforts, health care workers can’t avoid exposure. Even if they’re asymptomatic, they wonder, will they infect their families, colleagues, or other patients? How does it feel to perform unsuccessful CPR several times a day, or to tell families that their loved one has died, alone in isolation?
Doctors, nurses, police, firefighters, EMTs, and soldiers see things to make their hair stand on end. It’s a lot to take in and keep working, so they stay the course, necessarily burying their feelings…until those feelings later claw their way back to the surface. When they finally emerge they can be frightening and confusing. That’s PTSD.
Within these heroic professions, there’s seldom any place for people to scream their horror after the event and before it submerges and ferments. Why? Because professional helpers of every kind are deeply, deeply givers rather than takers, so we characteristically resist asking for help. Maybe our current plight is extreme enough to make us reconsider.
Jeff Kane is a physician and writer in Nevada City.
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