Wajahat Ali: Where are the masks?
Farris is competent and prepared, working in a cutting-edge medical system. She fears what may happen in the fall if COVID-19 comes back in full force. “I remember the second wave of H1N1 [swine flu] in 2009,” she told me. “I was a shiny new attending physician at Duke, and I had a newborn. Children were just suddenly dying in the emergency department. Because of associated myocarditis, a number of children had to have heart transplants.”
I’m also an emergency physician, in a rural area of the state, and I’ve heard from doctors all over South Carolina who are worried either about the devastation they’ve already seen returning or about what they haven’t seen in rural areas suddenly emerging.
It’s hard enough to pronounce someone dead, then give the patient’s family the news. It’s worse when it happens every hour—and for weeks. The stress of those caring for these patients is real and palpable in what they write and say.
Doctors are also worried about patients who don’t have the coronavirus. As people cancel doctor appointments and avoid the hospital out of fear of catching the coronavirus, they are ignoring new symptoms, and that can mean missed heart attacks or delayed stroke care. Kenneth Perry, a member of the board of directors of the South Carolina College of Emergency Physicians, wrote me, “I’ve had multiple patients stay home with STEMI [a heart attack] and sepsis because they were afraid of getting COVID-19.” Hospital administrators, worried about increasing exposure to infected patients, are also canceling outpatient procedures. Laura B., a nurse who works in ambulatory surgery, is concerned that patients aren’t getting what they need.
Jeremy Samuel Faust: Medication shortages are the next crisis
Other health-care professionals are fearful for another reason: They are losing work. A physician wrote me, “It feels like COVID has run all the other diseases out of town.” Many doctors, specialists included, have had hours cut or contracts terminated. As enormous as the problem of the coronavirus is in some places, in many others, the “bread and butter” of medicine, the regular appointments people have with their primary care physician, endocrinologist, oncologist, allergist, and so on, have dropped off precipitously.
A radiology technician, who asked not to be named, is suddenly out of work and exploring unemployment benefits. “It’s supposed to be a time of enjoyment,” his wife wrote to me, referencing their empty nest. “Instead it’s a time of worry and stress.” She wonders whether they will have to sell their house. A respiratory therapist I know is less worried of contracting the virus than she is of having zero income. A nurse practitioner wrote to me that she is concerned because she is paid only on a per-patient basis. “Still blessed, despite,” she said. Most of these people were afraid to use their names. Health-care workers can be fired if their comments are perceived to reflect poorly on their hospitals.