My hospital, like others, started bracing itself as speculation grew that a wave of coronavirus cases would hit. We prepped for battle in our scrubs and PPE, and I conjured up the needed energy in order to fight. We saw the catastrophe in some nearby states and held out with worried and bated breath.
As we waited, our hospital's census decreased because patients were too scared to come in. Suddenly, when we least expected it, the emergency rooms were once again packed, this time with an overwhelming number of patients with alcohol withdrawal, intentional drug overdoses, and complications of intravenous drug use.
I peered into one patient's hopeless eyes as she explained that she had recently been hired as a full-time sixth-grade teacher but had then been furloughed because of the pandemic. She had a history of alcohol abuse and had been sober for the last five years. When life as we knew it became topsy-turvy, she drowned her depression in copious vodka. As she spoke in a trembling voice, she explained that she felt isolated.
The following days would be a tumultuous delirium tremens rollercoaster. The pandemic was no place for the vulnerable, the ones with no emotional support. My patient recovered and was set up with counseling services, but unfortunately, there were many more like her. The stories were similar: Most were laid off or simply lost a sense of purpose. It was quite daunting!
While I did see a few cases of COVID-19, the numbers paled in comparison to those seen by hospitalists deep in the hot zones. I was mesmerized by the stories of my fellow comrades in the midst of the real battle. I felt guilty and even shied away from the ever-so-popular acclaim: “We salute our frontline heroes.”
I would later learn that my feelings were far from unique. It was at the highest peak in our hospital census that my colleagues and I peeled the imposter syndrome scales from our eyes. We came to the sudden realization of our true purpose, knowing that we all made a meaningful difference.
Life is sometimes about perspective. Yes, we are definitely frontline heroes. It just depends on which direction you're watching from.