Covid19 is Gonna Make Us Pay Big

For the longest time, the status of Covid19 cases – how afraid we should be – was measured in the number of ICU beds available. “We have plenty of beds,” our Governor kept assuring us. I live in Texas, so everyone knows how that’s turned out. The measurement point of beds available always confused me. Sure, we have beds. Big deal. We can always get more beds. We can buy a bunch from other countries that’ve been smart enough to deal competently with the virus. But what’s not easily gotten, what’s not a renewable resource, is medical professionals. Why is that not the measure we’re using?

We’re using up our medical professionals and we’re using them up hard. Those who work in hospitals talk about long shifts under constant pressure, the agony of hopelessness, the trauma of death, and of being not only physical caretaker for patients but emotional support as well. Because in addition to the innumerable tasks of keeping people physically alive, they’re now being asked to take on the role of family and friends who cannot be there due to fear of infection. And that’s just what they have to deal with on the job.

Many doctors and nurses choose not to go home because they don’t want to infect their families. So, they sit alone in whatever housing they can find, trying desperately to deal with the crushing fatigue, the fear of catching Covid19, and post-traumatic stress reactions. Many have trouble sleeping, are becoming obsessive about sanitizing everything, and are experiencing flashbacks. And those are the lucky ones. The merely unlucky are the ones who come down with Covid while the truly unlucky are those who die. When this pandemic is all over, how are these brave, selfless individuals going to heal? How are they going to continue their lifesaving work and be able to move on with their lives?

But it isn’t just them. Others who work in healthcare are paying too. The EMTs who transport the sick are also working long hours oftentimes for low pay and no benefits (they actually have to work side jobs!). As paramedic Anthony Almojera put, “Heroes, right? The anger is blinding.” They struggle to keep their charges alive, face the fear of catching Covid, and also deal with terrified families, grief-stricken families, and those angry at the long time they had to wait for help. Like their hospital brethren, they’re experiencing exhaustion, depression, panic attacks, PTSD, and some are self-medicating with alcohol. Many have caught the virus, several have died, and more than one has taken their own life.

The mental health professionals, the ones being asked to take on and heal the trauma of those affected by this crisis, are also being overwhelmed by stress. We’re known as the invisible frontline professionals because our job isn’t as visible but we’re still critical. We’re the ones who will be expected to pick up the pieces of our fellow healthcare professionals of the after-effects of working in a pandemic. We also will be the ones asked to heal the long-term mental health effects of quarantine and isolation.

We’re doing all of that within a mental healthcare system that was already deeply flawed, with minimal efforts for preventative treatments and too few professionals working for too little pay. It’s a vast understatement to say we were in no way ready to face a tragedy of this magnitude, especially one with effects that will last a very long time. Many mental health professionals are already contemplating leaving the field because, just like all the other healthcare professionals, we’re experiencing trauma, exhaustion, and stress-related health problems. Given the long-term effects this pandemic is going to wreak on the psyches of our nation, the prospect of fewer mental healthcare professionals is a disaster.

And then there’s everyone else. Although frontline healthcare workers will, inevitably, be hit the hardest, everyone else is negatively affected as well. Those who had severe cases of Covid struggle with the long-term physical effects. Families who lost loved ones due to the disease suffer. And then we’ll have the tsunami like wave of people struggling with depression and anxiety from the fear we’ve been living with, the impact on our economy, the polarization of what should’ve been a unifying issue, and the loss of the world we used to have. Even if we get an effective vaccine – please, let us get a vaccine!! – we’re not yet done with this pandemic, not by a long shot.

Or, perhaps more accurately, this pandemic is not yet done with us. We’re going to pay for our arrogance in underestimating and ignoring it. We’re going to pay for our acceptance of incompetent leadership. We’re going to pay for those who recklessly and callously harmed people – the governors who refused to issue mask and stay at home mandates, the business owners who accepted bailout money while not prioritizing the safety of their employees, the police who shot peaceful protesters (in the middle of a pandemic!) with rubber bullets and tear gas, the landlords who evicted people with nowhere to go – without many consequences.

Most of all, we’re going to pay for our refusal to develop a solid foundation of healthcare and public health systems that ensure we all work together to help each and every one of us. Covid19 has tested us and found us wanting. We’ll feel the effects of that test for generations. If you think we’ve faced the worst of it, you’re wrong. We’re gonna pay and we’re gonna pay big. It’s just a matter of when and how much.

Share Your Thoughts