As tears silently rolled down my patient’s face, I could feel my own eyes grow moist. Holding back the tears that threatened to escape, I patted her hand and told her how sorry I felt. She just lost both parents to COVID, and she wasn’t allowed to be at their side when they died.
The same scene plays out in my exam room a few times a week, or sometimes, several times a day. Those who oppose mask or vaccine mandates never had the loved ones of the patients who died from this monstrous virus weep on their shoulders nor felt the wetness of tears that others cried landing on their skin.
While some quote the high survival rate, they neglect the grief of the many left behind. They don’t feel the guilt of someone who thinks they may have killed someone they loved because they gave them COVID. Their souls are not ripped apart by the overwhelming grief many are experiencing, grief that I can see in my patients’ eyes, grief so profound and deep that I can almost touch and taste.
We should be grieving as a nation for over 800,000 American lives lost and for all those who cared about them. As many people frantically finish their holiday plans, many are mired by the weight of this tragedy.
Stories fill the media of those who feel it is their right to choose not to follow public health safety measures, the only tools available to keep people safe. They tout their own health and well-being while not thinking of others who may be more at risk. And then, we see the stories come out of those who regret those decisions. Perhaps, the greatest grief is knowing that you were wrong, and because of it, someone died.
Around the globe, people continue to die and suffer and recover. People continue to love them and miss them and grieve. New variants come out, and the virus surges again and again, leaving countless victims in its wake.
Doctors and other healthcare workers are burnt out like never before. Just when it seems there may be a break in the pandemic, it comes back with full fury. Yet, we keep moving on, adapting new treatments and guidelines as they become available, clearly not quickly enough. This is a calling like we’ve never had before: to face a virus that may kill us in order to help patients survive. We continue the battle on the frontlines, because no one else can; there are no reservists in medicine.
Grief can be crushing when we hear and feel it day after day. It becomes paralyzing when we struggle to give our patients hope, yet feel our souls broken and bruised by the many terrible things we’ve seen since the pandemic started. Nevertheless, there is hope and kindness. For as much as we’ve seen bad behavior played out on TV, there are many more acts of kindness that never get noticed.
Yes, there is hope that we can avoid more grieving. We have masks and vaccines and new therapeutics coming soon. We have an army of scientists investigating a cure. And we have doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers who care enough to put themselves in danger for the sake of others. Grief can be paralyzing, but COVID-19 will end. There is hope.