By LTC Derrick Sorweide, DO, FACOFP; United States Army Reserve, Medical Readiness and Training Command; ACOFP Governor
When soldiers come out of a battle, there comes a feeling of relief—even after the pain; the physical, emotional and spiritual fatigue; and the loss of comrades. That is when people begin to rebuild themselves and figure out where to put those memories away for a while so they can feel “normal” again. Unfortunately, before that process is completed, there are times when circumstances force you to re-tie your boots and get back in the fight. Often, this can be much more troubling to the individual than the original battle was.
So, why am I telling you this? Because we are seeing those cracks form in many parts of society due to the resurgence of COVID-19. Many thought it was over. Even for those whose heads said it wasn’t, their hearts so wanted it to be. It’s not. I say that without any real emotion, because it is a simple fact and getting emotional about facts that you cannot change is a waste of effort. I try to save my emotions for the things that I can impact. We seldom have control over the circumstances around us, but what we do own—100%—is how we react to those circumstances.
A recent book I read spoke about the difference between fault and responsibility. The author wrote about thinking about having your doorbell ring at 3 am on a frozen winter morning. You come down the stairs and find someone has left a baby on your step with a note that says they just cannot care for the infant any longer. That baby is not your fault, but it is now certainly your responsibility. Physicians should think of this time of COVID-19 as the abandoned baby left in your care.
With every challenge is a chance to learn. If you hear discussions about treatments or preventatives or anything else that conflicts with what you think, ask yourself why someone thinks like that. Read your sources, yes, but also seek out their sources. Do both with an open mind and heart and with the trained eye of a health professional that knows how to tell good research and data from bad. It’s not always easy, but in doing so, you will learn lessons. Go be lifelong learners.
With every conflict is a chance to be a leader. Leaders don’t widen the divides among people; they listen calmly to both sides, weigh all the evidence, take into account all the emotions, and seek the best overall solutions for all parties. Shouting, name calling, outrage… those are all signs of someone who has lost the intellectual battle and is trying to make it all emotional. It’s human. It happens. We all have good and bad days. Show grace. Forgive those around you who are upset and scared, or just plain mad. Even if they don’t think the way that you do, understand why they may be feeling that way. That does not mean that you have to change to their point of view. What it does mean is that you cannot meet outrage with outrage and expect to be part of the solution.
Leaders show empathy for the individual, but do not let that persuade them for making an unemotional best call for the majority. Sometimes, leaders have to know when the discussion is not going anywhere of use, and resolve that the best solution is to follow the decisions of the other leaders around them with full faith and commitment that it serves the greater good. Go be leaders.
Physicians don’t have to know it all. They do have to continue to learn, stay compassionate and provide a safe, calm place for patients to come unload their concerns. Physicians do not have to be able to stomp out all disease. They do have to be committed—body, mind and spirit—to trying. Go be physicians.
Humans need sleep, exercise, good food and water. They also need fresh air, emotional release, human contact and hope. We all fatigue. Plan ahead. Hug your loved ones, eat good food, sleep when you can and exercise when you can’t. Find ways to stay strong. These include getting vaccinated, wearing your masks, and social distancing. Your chosen profession needs to be at the forefront of this epidemic. Go do that, and be proud that you can be. However, use common sense to decrease your risks to yourself and to others. Trust your leaders. Trust your PPE and procedures. Take a few extra steps to stay safe. Go be human.
This is not going to be either fast or easy. OK. Fast and easy is for everyone else. You are or are training to be physicians. You asked for that honor. You said you were committed to your fellow humans. Go prove it.
And, know that you are not alone. Medicine—and especially DOs—are a family. We all need the support of family at times. Just ask. If you need help, ask me, ask someone. We need you in the fight.