The Community of Courage Facing COVID-19

Why don’t doctors panic in a pandemic? The answer has implications for everyone.

Doctors in face masks
Doctors in face masks
Image by the National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

Two weeks ago doctors were focused on keeping everyone calm as we tried to understand COVID-19. Now that we have the public moving to safety at home, the doctors are gearing up for the real work in this rapidly evolving pandemic.

This is the big one.

For decades doctors have known that a pandemic would come one day. A real one, not just a scare. One that would break through containment and spread exponentially. It’s frightening to see it really happening.

What are your doctors doing?

We are gearing up and we are feeling the pressure. Do you know what doctors do under pressure? We focus on what we know and what we can do in that moment. Right now we are preparing for a level of infection that, if all of us do not make changes such as staying at home, will likely overwhelm our clinics and hospitals.

Doctors face a crisis by working together in a community of courage, with each other and our amazing teams. We will face this together, and we hope you will join us in this mission.

Taking effective action helps us feel better when we are worried.

Are you worried about this pandemic? That’s appropriate. Are you feeling overwhelmed? It helps to focus on what you can do. There is a tremendous sense of purpose in knowing that you are helping all of us when you follow the recommendations of the CDC. Right now that means staying home, washing your hands, and practicing social distancing.

“The concept of social distancing was introduced globally as a way to try and control the global COVID-19 pandemic. Even if you are feeling well, if you have the coronavirus but are not having symptoms, you pose a threat to others that could result in their death,” says Dr. Shikha Jain, an oncologist, and a professor of medicine at Rush University. “Currently, it seems the most vulnerable to this disease, as with many others, are those over the age of 60, and the immunocompromised. By going to the gym or a restaurant, you may be exposing multiple people who could get the disease and end up on a ventilator simply by being in proximity to you.”

It’s time to come together as a community.

When a global pandemic is at our doors, coming together as a community means staying away from each other physically. For those who are able, working from home and avoiding going out except for groceries makes a huge difference. Virtual services at houses of worship, FaceTime playdates, and chats with family are wonderful options.

“Health care professionals see a lot and are typically not alarmists. If we feel this current crisis is severe enough to shut down schools and socially distance ourselves, it is essential to follow these recommendations and protect our most vulnerable in order to control this pandemic,” Jain explains.

Help us flatten the curve.

We cannot do this without you. Remember, at this point, we have no medications proven to treat COVID-19. All we can do is slow this thing down, and that means it comes down to what each of us does. Flattening the curve refers to slowing the spread of the pandemic so that we have room in our hospitals for you if you need us.

The media has highlighted that the US does not have enough ICU beds, doctors or nurses for worst-case scenarios, especially if this happens all at once. This is correct, says Dr. Carrie Herzke, Asst Professor of Medicine at Johns Hopkins. “We want to be more like countries that have been able to flatten the curve than those that haven’t. Doing that reduces the potential need to ration healthcare and can significantly lower mortality rates.”

Hospitals around the country are preparing to run out of beds. But you can still make a difference. It only works if you stay home and practice social distancing when with others. Six feet apart is a lot of feet apart.

Consider the matches.

No image has clarified how the virus spreads better than this one, which has gone viral on the internet. One person can make all the difference. “The one who stayed away saved all the rest.”

Image of matches burning, with one match out of sequence, stopping the spread of the fire.
Image of matches burning, with one match out of sequence, stopping the spread of the fire.

If you are young, you are still part of us.

Our communities need us all, every single one. Doctors are worried that we’ve done too good a job of reassuring those under 40 that they are likely to recover well from COVID-19. When we hear tales of pub crawls and spring break beach parties, we feel nothing but distress for our patients. The young and healthy can help all of us by protecting the weak.

Don’t forget the basics.

This is a cold virus and it spreads like a cold virus. If you are a parent, you know exactly what that means. Parents know that entire schools predictably come down with colds 2–3 weeks after every school year begins. But this is a cold virus on steroids. Remember, 80% of us are expected to have mild illness and recover just fine. But 20% is a lot of us to end up in the hospital. Learn the full handwashing technique, cough into your elbow with a tight seal, and sanitize those high-touch surfaces.

Doctors don’t panic in a pandemic, they act.

Doctors are trained to assess situations and apply appropriate concern. When we take things seriously, we do what is needed. If we believe the coronavirus is not a real problem, we won’t do what we need to do to flatten the curve. But the same is true if we panic.

A community of courage.

You may feel alone at home, but you are doing this as part of an American and a global community. Healthcare teams are facing a huge task, and it helps us have the courage we need when we know you are with us.

Originally published at https://www.psychologytoday.com.

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How can we take effective action under pressure? Forbes Contributor | TEDx Speaker | Pediatrician | PsychToday | ShouldStorm.com

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