March 11, 2020

Pandemic it is

After more than a week at what felt like ground zero in the Seattle area, I feel attention shifting to other parts of the country. But here, now we are still just at the beginning, hoping to flatten the curve. The only patients I saw today came for their annual exams, plenty of time to visit, since there were no acute sick visits like usual on my schedule. Patients are laying low. The underlying energy is buzzing, as we digest the news that the governor has banned events of more than 250 people. About time, we all mutter. Then we start to get indigestion when we hear Seattle schools are closing for a “minimum” of two weeks. This is an immense and difficult decision and effects our staff who are parents. What do they do? We worry about kids who go to school to get their two reliable meals of the day. What do they do? We get the news of a few more deaths in the elderly nursing home patients, a firefighter tested positive, another positive test in a woman who is stable for the moment. And the leaders come by to ask us to work at the acute respiratory clinic regularly instead of our usual clinic due to increase need, but they don’t know for how long. Feeling like the calm before the storm, I fear there will be more diagnoses and sick people, we just don’t know how many and how quickly.

I am not trying to be alarmist, but we all need to flatten the curve and do our part, especially those of you NOT in Seattle. The virus had a head start here, so we may not slow the epidemic enough here, but it can make a difference elsewhere. See The Washington Post story linked below on social distancing and the difference that made in St. Louis compared to Philadelphia. The more I hear about the illness, I realize it is not “just the flu”. It starts pretty mildly and then progresses after 6-7 days or so. The flu does the opposite - knocks you flat like a Mack truck and lasts about a week. In Covid-19, you start to get better after that, most of the time, but a few will not, and will need ICU care. Honestly, I hope we have enough beds when that happens.

Tough words to write and tough words to read. We really don’t know what is coming and I fear we are on our own. Each state, actually, is on its own. Some states are more prepared than others, some not so much. At the moment we can’t count on help coming from elsewhere, because we all may be overwhelmed.

And that is where sustainability comes in. I fear we are all in this for the long haul, there will be tough times and heartbreak, if only because people lose their livelihoods, hopefully not their health. We know people whose work has disappeared over night and others who will not have work tomorrow. Add to that, the costs of missing work due to childcare needs or sick needs or the cost of healthcare. Many of us will be hurting and fearful about those things, as much as we are afraid for our own health.

So it is time to remember to be kind and help others. A neighbor has put out a call to help deliver food and other items who people who can’t get out. We can help with visits and calls to people who can’t get out. We can tell our friends and family we love them. And at my work, I am hoping to find ways to support my colleagues through this because we need to sustain ourselves too. We are luckier than most in some ways, because our work has built in meaning, and we all need more of that in our lives.

Oh, and don’t forget to wash your hands

And finally, my caveat is that this is my experience and my opinions, which are subject to change as more information is available, and not related to the organization I work for. Thanks for reading.