If your social media feeds look anything like mine, you’re sipping a strong cocktail of life and death. My spirits are lifted when I see photos of kids posing in front of utopian scenes they drew on sidewalks with rainbow-colored chalk. But graphs with curves that look anything but flattened remind me that we are a long way from the rosy world our children envision.
Between these highs and lows, I find an outpouring of gratitude for the healthcare workers we depend on to maintain distance between our families and a grim future we are loathe to imagine. We healthcare workers welcome and appreciate this gratitude. It feels good to know that we are valued—that society understands we are making a difference.
But as I scroll through social media, I wonder how much more of a difference we could be making. It breaks my heart to see American nurses wearing trash bags and doctors sharing recommendations for how to jerry rig together limited supplies. Without the right equipment, we doctors put ourselves, our families, our patients, and our society at risk.
Gratitude warms our hearts, but it cannot protect us from a foe like coronavirus. And as much as it might make us feel better, calling healthcare workers superheroes ignores the fact that we are human, we are at risk, and we need help, too. Today, I call on everyone to engage in heroism and take action to support healthcare workers in our fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
Businesses can help. On March 27, the President used the Defense Production Act to order General Motors to produce ventilators. I encourage all American business owners to consider how they can support healthcare workers, whether by shifting manufacturing priorities or donating funds or supplies. If you can’t think of a relevant way to use your business to help, here’s one for you: Support your employees. Don’t put them in a position where they are forced to choose between physical and financial health.
As for politicians, our system of government was designed so that we can elect officials who will fight for our interests while we stay concerned with the intricate details of our personal lives. We elected you. Will you follow through for us? Keep in mind that pandemics ignore party lines. Now is the time to put your personal agenda aside and focus on helping your constituency, including healthcare workers. Resist the urge to give false hope or raise a false alarm—both can be deadly. Rather, find a physician or scientist and listen to them. They can help you speak the truth to the people you were elected to represent. They can also help you address physician needs, which will help you, in turn, protect us all.
No matter your profession, you have a role to play in curbing the greatest sickness of our lifetime. I encourage you to think about the people you saw each day before coronavirus upended our lives. Think of all the people you saw at work, on the street, at a restaurant, at a store. Each time you don’t come into close contact with one of these people, you are making a contribution to societal well-being. You are actively helping physicians in the fight against a pandemic. So, allow me, as a physician, to return the gratitude.
I look forward to the day when my social media feeds turn back into the positive connective tissue of virtual life they used to be. I hope that soon, our children can draw with rainbow chalk on the driveway, this time with help from their friends. But it’s going to take a community effort to get there. We must remember to follow the truth by following the data from sources like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. While we maintain physical distance from others, we must maintain personal connection by reaching out to friends and family frequently. And throughout this process, we must never forget that every step we take to prevent the spread of coronavirus infection is an act of selfless heroism.
I am hopeful that we come together to find a way to support the physicians on the front lines by getting them the equipment they need to do their jobs. I’m also hopeful that you stay healthy—there’s no greater gift we physicians could ask for.