“We are able to’t let COVID win.”
This was my colleague’s mantra when the pandemic began final 12 months. And for the virtually 18 months since, well being care employees have rallied to the battlefields, even at instances once we had no weapons to brandish.
We took care of the contaminated and the critically in poor health when nobody else would. We reused N95 masks, rigorously inserting them in labeled brown paper luggage in between shifts. We witnessed lonely deaths and held up iPads for households to say their heartbreaking goodbyes. We created elaborate backup schedules and uncared for our private lives. We stepped up throughout surges and when our colleagues fell in poor health. Camaraderie within the ICU had by no means been stronger as a result of we acknowledged that this was a group effort and all of humanity was battling in opposition to a standard enemy.
However as well being care employees, we additionally had been painfully conscious of our personal vulnerabilities. We are able to run out of ICU assets for our sufferers. We are able to run out of non-public protecting tools for ourselves. We might be uncovered on the job and get sick. And we are able to die — many people did, more than 3,600 from COVID-19 in the first year.
Many people quarantined away from our households to guard those we love. We counted the danger components of our kids, our aged mother and father, our spouses, and got here up with our personal formulation to determine whether or not to return house on the finish of the shift or gap up in a resort room. Certainly one of our ICU administrators wrote and rewrote our COVID-19 scientific tips to maintain up with the evolving literature and in some way she carved out the time to write down her personal will.
I labored each day to adapt our end-of-life program to the altering wants and restrictions of the pandemic and signed up for a vaccine scientific trial as quickly as one turned out there. I additionally up to date my very own advance directive and printed it out for my husband, simply in case.
Then, efficient vaccines turned extensively out there within the U.S. — I briefly noticed gentle on the finish of the tunnel. The variety of sufferers with COVID-19 in ICUs throughout the nation plummeted. It seemed like our sacrifices and dedication as well being care employees had paid off. We believed herd immunity might develop into a actuality and we might return to some sense of normalcy.
However the aid was short-lived, the hope was fleeting, and we’re amid one other surge. A surge that’s fueled by a extremely transmissible variant and people unvaccinated. My experiences within the ICU these previous weeks have left me stunned, disheartened, however most of all, offended.
I’m offended that the tragic scenes of prior surges are being performed out but once more, however now with ICUs primarily crammed with sufferers who’ve chosen to not be vaccinated. I’m offended that it takes me over an hour to clarify to an anti-vaxxer stuffed with misinformation that intubation isn’t what “kills sufferers” and that their want for chest compressions with out intubation within the occasion of a respiratory arrest is unnecessary. I’m offended at those that refuse to put on “muzzles” when grocery looking for half an hour every week, as I’ve been so-called “muzzled” for a lot of the previous 18 months.
I can’t perceive the simultaneous resolution to not get vaccinated and the demand to finish the restrictions imposed by a pandemic. I can’t assist however recoil as if I’ve been slapped within the face when my ICU affected person tells me they didn’t get vaccinated as a result of they “simply didn’t get round to it.” Though such people don’t take into account themselves anti-vaxxers, their inaction itself is a call — a call to not shield themselves or their households, to fill a valuable ICU mattress, to let new variants flourish, and to hazard the well being care employees and immunosuppressed folks round them. Their inaction is a call to let this pandemic proceed to rage.
I’m at a loss to know how anybody can have a look at these previous months of the pandemic — greater than 600,000 lives misplaced within the U.S. and greater than 4 million worldwide — and never consider it’s actual or take it significantly.
And in the meantime, immunocompromised folks, for whom vaccines don’t generate a lot immunity, are desperately ready for herd immunity. I’ve no method to consolation my rightfully outraged transplant sufferers who contracted COVID-19 after isolating for over a 12 months and getting absolutely vaccinated as quickly as they may. With offended tears, these sufferers inform me it’s not truthful that there are people who find themselves selecting to hazard each themselves and the weak folks round them. They really feel betrayed by their fellow residents and they’re bitter and offended. I can’t blame them.
I’m at a loss to know how anybody can have a look at these previous months of the pandemic — greater than 600,000 lives misplaced within the U.S. and greater than 4 million worldwide — and never consider it’s actual or take it significantly. However the sad fact is that there are individuals who don’t. They didn’t at first and lots of are doubling down now.
I assumed when this pandemic started that we had been all on this combat collectively, engaged in a battle in opposition to a standard enemy. Now, I painfully notice: Maybe we had been by no means on the identical facet and we by no means had a standard enemy. Maybe the battle has been amongst ourselves all alongside. Now we have received many battles however unvaccinated America is selecting to let COVID win the battle.
Thanh Neville, M.D., M.S.H.S., is an ICU doctor and researcher at UCLA Well being. She can also be the medical director of the UCLA 3 Wishes Program (an end-of-life program through which clinicians elicit and implement closing needs for dying sufferers and their households). You may comply with her on Twitter at @thanh_neville.
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