Nathan C. Claydon, MD: We’re all stressed, be kind
Last week I looked out the window of our office on the top floor of the hospital to see smoke arising from what we now know to be the River Fire.
I work as a physician at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital. My colleagues and I have been in the midst of treating a surge of COVID-19 patients over the past two weeks, which has strained our facility’s capacity to a serious degree. The hospital wards and ICU are full. Nurses are exhausted, as are support staff.
Seeing a giant, ominous smoke plume seemed to be yet one more existential threat to our way of life in the beautiful Sierra Nevada foothills.
Yet there is another more insidious threat to our community, and that is anger, hatred and division. I am proud to say I was born and raised in Nevada County, and was thrilled to have the privilege of returning to practice as an internist at our beloved hospital five years ago. It is because I know the kind and beautiful soul of this community that I am stunned at witnessing many hostile interactions at public health briefings, school board meetings, social media, and even in the supermarkets and sidewalks.
Never have I seen such open contempt for fellow citizens, neighbors, friends and even family.
I am, of course fearful for the health of our community in this pandemic. I have seen too many patients die from COVID-19 in our hospital — sometimes with only me and an ICU nurse by their side when it happens.
But I am also fearful for the mental health of our community. Some of the trauma is expected by nature of the situation, but far too often the psychological trauma is as the result of a verbal assault, an argument that goes to far, or the pain of friendships or even family being ripped apart by disagreements.
We are a strong and resilient community. We can and will navigate a public health crisis, along with natural disasters as they arise. What we cannot survive are the deep wounds I fear are being inflicted on each other in a time of stress. How we choose to act in a crisis can have real, long-term consequences on our community’s psyche for years to come.
We cannot choose whether or not we are in a pandemic or fire season, but we can chose how we treat others as it unfolds.
These are difficult times, and we must make difficult decisions together. When the stakes are high, it is appropriate to have strong opinions about public health, personal freedom, and all the thorny issues in between.
However, when your opinion leads you down a path of anger, hatred and contempt it can be exceedingly unhealthy for you and those around you. Our community is only as good as how our members choose to treat each other.
Before engaging on consequential issues, I suggest taking a brief moment to acknowledge that everyone is in a difficult place. Regardless of the position you plan to take, choose your words carefully and respectfully, both online and in person. Let us be patient with each other, let us respect each other and be compassionate towards each other.
Let us live up to the amazing community I know that we are.
Nathan C. Claydon, MD, MBA, FACP, is a chief hospitalist in internal medicine at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital.
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