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Elaf from Beirut: In February, Dr. Bryce Meek was locking herself in the bathroom to cry for five minutes when her patients, whom she had been watching for weeks in a medical intensive care unit, were dying of coronavirus. They begged her to tell people in their community that they should be vaccinated. Of the 20 patients under her care, only three survived.
Each week, Mick’s frustration grew when she saw patients at a primary care clinic in Columbia, Missouri, who were hesitant about a vaccine, shared misinformation or told her that their friends were pressuring them not to get vaccinated. “I wish patients in the clinic could only meet people with this virus in the hospital,” said Mick, who is still reeling from the long-term effects of the virus.
Now more than ever, medical professionals are sadly and traumatized by the pandemic. But the problem is more than the size of the patients: they deal with the disharmony of unvaccinated patients and the limitations of the health system, leaving them without the tools to do their jobs the way they were trained to do them.
The stakes are high for the workforce facing these psychological and emotional tolls, as clinicians are given little support and suffer professional consequences when they disclose mental health issues. Experts say some of what they encounter can be summed up in two terms: moral damage and empathy fatigue.
Karnan Manion, executive director of the Center for Physicians’ Rights, said: “The fatigue of empathy is the feeling that it’s hard to care when you’re overburdened, but still dedicated to the task, and moral injury occurs when a nurse or doctor feels the patients I’ve dedicated my life to are there. Here now because of their negligence.”
“I don’t even get a chance to try to show the split-second decisions, critical thinking, and empathy that I can do,” says Mick. “Practicing mindfulness isn’t going to repair the moral damage.”
Dr. Anita Sircar, a California-based infectious disease physician, can’t help but be angry at patients who have a life-threatening illness they could have avoided with a vaccine. In a widely shared opinion piece, she said, “The fatigue of compassion was just beginning. For those who had yet to leave after the toughest year of our careers, even hope was fading.”
So far, nearly 660,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the United States. With the current surge in cases, that number is expected to rise by 100,000 by December, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical advisor to President Joe Biden.
“We didn’t have any magic tricks, so I was frustrated and helpless, and that’s what makes it so difficult to monitor this wave of the epidemic, because we have a vaccine and we know it works,” emergency physician Michelle Soh says, as she reflects on the increasing spread of the virus in Houston and the impact on her patients.
This severely affects doctors across the country, as their options for seeking help are limited. Unlike other professions, physicians exposed to occupational hazards in their profession face multiple barriers to mental health care. They may be asked questions about their mental health history on government medical licensing applications, hospital privileges, insurance, and malpractice insurance, or risk having their medical records exposed in the event of a lawsuit.
Cory Fest, co-founder of the Dr. Lorna Brain Heroes Foundation, which advocates for the welfare of physicians, said she was horrified that her professional reputation would be damaged “if anyone learned of the idea that she couldn’t keep up”.
Dr. Mona Masoud, a Philadelphia-based psychiatrist, also co-founded Physicians Support Line, a free and confidential telephone service staffed by 800 volunteer psychiatrists. Motivated by the crisis doctors faced early in the pandemic, they gave nearly 10,000 minutes a month to help doctors.
“There has been a clear rise in the number of calls during the pandemic, with many conversations focusing on the strain of empathy and the breakdown of the doctor-patient relationship,” Masoud said. “There is a sense that I am risking my life, my family’s life, and my well-being for people who don’t care about me.”
This report was prepared by “Elaf” on “Guardian”.
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