I read something today that has stuck with me, you know, when you read a line and then it rolls around in your head, pinging around, and unsettling you. It’s a powerful piece, published in the New York Times, written by Dr. Helen Ouyang, an ER doctor in New York City. In it she describes her journey from hearing of the outbreak of the virus, to returning home to New York City and working in conditions that I’m sure I will never forget. Patients dying alone, the quiet of the normally bustling hospital when everyone is on oxygen and their families aren’t allowed in the hospital, and the terror of waking up the morning after a shift and not knowing if you had remembered to shower the night before.
These are unprecedented times. I imagine that all Americans feel this outbreak in their bones, like a feeling that you forgot to do something and that not remembering is going to cost you. But I worry about these front line medical providers. The doctors, the nurses, the hospital staff who are navigating situations that go against their instincts to save, nurture, and comfort. Outside of the obvious risk to their health from the disease, what about the moral injury they are all sustaining? What will the impact be? Will they ever heal?
We already knew, we healthcare providers, that burnout was a problem. Though I am thrilled that physicians and scientists are turning their gaze to examine themselves, I wonder how one even starts to investigate what is happening now. I can only hope that going forward the impetus to help these providers with their invisible injuries, the ones who are putting themselves on the line, will be just as strong as the need to return to normal.
I take solace in knowing that the world has been through worse events than this, and made it through. Try reading a speech or watching a movie. Find a time when good wins out. And keep your thoughts with Dr. Ouyang and her colleagues.