April 29, 2020

Living in the Time of COVID-19

by Andrew J. Taylor, MD, FACR

Maybe this time of crisis will reinforce what has always been true — that our fates are interconnected. What an incredible gift it would be to humankind if intellect, diligence, hope and altruism were to dominate our thoughts and actions at this time. Revisiting history can also help us keep perspective.

Previous eras of fear due to infectious outbreaks include the 1918 influenza pandemic and the Black Death (circa 1350). Mycobacterium tuberculosis was responsible for one in seven deaths in the United States and Europe in the 1800s. And parents in the early 1950s had serious concerns about limb-deforming, life-altering polio.

At the same time, examples of global, devastating disease outbreaks cannot completely mitigate the understandable worries related to our present predicament. Everyone has the right to be concerned and anxious about our individual and collective worlds under siege. This is a time like no other.

How should we, both as physicians and concerned humans, approach this extremely challenging period? We should take care of ourselves, preparing for critical daily tasks of living. We are also asked to give care and support to our fellow humans.

Physicians have an extra weight to carry. Being professionally responsible for others’ health has always been an obligation as well as a privilege and an honor. We must take care of ourselves and loved ones while keeping psychic space available to care for our patients. Physicians can be role models and encourage best practice guidelines and good habits to all people during this time.

When possible, we must also utilize our thoughts and actions to consider the larger society. What about the millions that are food-insecure or crowded together in unsanitary conditions? Or the people who help provide essential tasks for the public, but don’t have paid sick leave? And what about the great percentage of the population who may lose their jobs? Or folks who don’t have, or will not have, affordable health care? Acting in the best interests of the vulnerable is not only the morally correct action, but serves to decrease risk for all of us.