I Will Do Better
I’m sure we’re all happy to see 2020 go. I feel pretty confident assuming none of us have been out at fancy New Years’ Eve galas this year. I welcomed the new year sitting in thought by the fire, with my boys all passed out around me.
In this contemplative time, my thoughts were about the state of medicine. If you would permit, I’m going to interrupt the regular programming to share some of these thoughts.
What an emotional rollercoaster this past year has been.
We started the year normally, running from room to room, patient to patient, trying to do the best we can.
And then COVID hit. We were hailed as heroes and companies gave us discounts for just being us. I had never felt that kind of appreciation being a doctor until then.
Going to work felt like entering a battle. But, due to the fear of COVID and the shutdowns, caseloads plummeted almost across the board. In the midst of a healthcare crisis, we started hearing of colleagues being let go, contracts being canceled, and others being furloughed. Didn’t they know they would need us?
After this eerie calm within the storm, the caseloads did start to pick up. And boy did they pick up. Fear was rampant. Giving care became harder because everyone wanted healthcare without any contact with the health system. Masks were everywhere and no one was happy about it. We soldiered on. Finally, summer brought some joy but we all knew winter was coming.
As winter came, we took count of all of the comrades we had lost. But, as we mourned, the country was fatigued with COVID precautions. Suddenly, after being lauded as heroes in the battlefield, going to work felt more like being a soldier in Vietnam. It felt like we were all fighting an impossible battle that the country did not believe in. Only we had a lot more casualties than in Vietnam. We lost 250,000 Americans over the course of nine months. Vietnam, for comparison, had 58,220 American casualties over 11 years.
We lost our colleagues, too. Many, many of our brave comrades
The story Dr. Susan Moore was especially jarring to me. Her story exposed the inherent inequity and racism built into our healthcare system.
Here was a doctor who had contracted COVID while serving during the pandemic. You would have thought she would receive compassionate care from her colleagues. Instead, she was let down.
She told people about her symptoms but she felt like people did not listen. She was made to feel like a drug addict for asking for pain medication for her severe neck pain. “This is how Black people get killed,” she said. Tragically, a few days later, she passed away from “complications of COVID.”
I had a brush with this type of racism myself over this winter. Sometime in December, I suddenly developed severe 10/10 pain in my neck. I tried to walk it out but I got lightheaded and passed out. Unfortunately, my husband wasn’t home. When I came to, I could barely think, I was in so much pain. The only thing that prompted me to take action was the thought of my children still sleeping in their beds. I crawled to my phone and called him. He came and immediately called 911.
The paramedics arrived and entered my bedroom in all their swagger.
One of them immediately took a look at me writhing in pain and said, “I’m not carrying her downstairs, she can walk.” What? I told him I’m a doctor and I’m in severe pain…so much so that I passed out. His response was he had had several ruptured discs in his back and he knew what pain was. I clearly didn’t.
They took me to the ER. En route, they gave report to the ED and the paramedic reported “35yo female, no significant medical history, woke up with neck pain and reportedly lost consciousness.” We all know what “reportedly” means in doctor speak. It means I don’t believe her.
Listen, I’ve been in labor twice, once on Pitocin without an epidural for several hours. I know what pain feels like. I also had a whole day of patient’s scheduled that needed me. I would not call out unless I thought it was serious.
Being a doctor, my first thought was to rule out vertebral artery dissection. This is what it looks like when it happens and it happens to young, healthy people.
Instead of the usual protocol taking a patient who arrived by ambulance straight to a room in the ED, my ambulance was asked to go to the waiting room. As the triage nurse rolled her eyes when she saw me in tears and triaged me to the waiting room of the ER to wait with all the other ambulatory patients, barely dressed, sobbing, in my PJ’s, I thought to myself, “This is how brown women die.”
Dr. Susan Moore and I have the insider’s perspective to know that the treatment we were getting was not the standard of care. It was not how we see white patients treated day in and day out.
Thankfully, it wasn’t a dissection. It was likely a jumped facet that resolved itself. But, it could have been a dissection. And had it been a dissection, I could have died because these people simply didn’t want to believe what I had to say. Next time I’m in trouble, I’ll think twice before calling for help, because of how poorly I was treated this time. And that, too, is how brown and black people die.
So, as I contemplate our medical system now, my feelings are conflicted.
I know we are tired. We have been pushed to the limits. Forget hazard pay and stimulus checks, we have been asked to risk our lives and our families while being asked to take pay cuts. I know we are jaded by some of the public’s anti-mask and anti-vaccine sentiments.
But, we must do better.
We must have more compassion, more care, more awareness of how our system can be biased, and do even more to promote equality in how we give healthcare. We must train all our staff, from EMS to MAs, to LPNs, to RNs, to nurse practitioners and PAs’s and to doctors on how to NOT be racist, how not to be sexist.
That is my resolution this year- to be more compassionate, more caring, and less biased in my practice of medicine.
I will do my best to set the example and teach everyone else around me to do the same, as well.
Dr. Susan Moore, I will do better.
Rest in peace.
Standard Disclaimer: Not meant as individualized financial and medical advice.