I know exhaustion like a bedfellow from experiences in a Mobile Unit Self-Contained Transportable in Vietnam. Soldiers were being wounded and killed in two simultaneous operations, and Medevac helicopters were landing every fifteen minutes. Each chopper held four to six badly wounded soldiers who needed surgery and we were working nonstop for three days. Finally, it halted; we could breath. I was walking back to my hooch and heard the familiar sound of yet more Medevacs coming in. I squatted on the ground and cried from exhaustion.
This is no different from what providers are experiencing today, every day and every shift, as the sick and infected continue to assault their hospitals in unrelenting waves, with no sign of relief. Healthcare providers, including PAs and NPs, alongside nurses, physicians, respiratory therapists, laboratory personnel, and all the other ancillary personnel who make up the team, continue to give of that which remains in their responsibilities to the patient. They have lost, or are losing, the joy of their professions because of the enormous workload, patient aggression, unsympathetic administration and, inevitably, burnout. When COVID entered our world, everything changed, and if there ever was an overworked health system, it is ours, today.
As medical professionals, we have seen exhaustion face to face and it is disheartening, disappointing, and sad. We have seen our colleagues literally die on the field of battle while giving their all. In addition to all the already complex and crippling circumstances, there is a liability issue. Devasted families or sickened survivors feel that due to the ever-changing regulations imposed on medical institutions, they perhaps have had insufficient care, the wrong medications, or were not able to receive medications that would have given themselves or their loved ones a glimmer of hope. They have become hostile to the point of seeking litigation for their treatment; those same caregivers now become a target. The psychological detritus of the pandemic has been often blind rage at the fear, death, and loss of everything that once gave individuals a semblance of peace – a reliable universe. With all the emotions that HCPs struggle with every day, there is a fear and anxiety to defend ourselves. What can we do to unburden ourselves to some degree from this anxiety and, simultaneously, remove the threat imposed by litigation? Why do we even need to be distracted by this reality? Is there a better way to exist and practice medicine in this environment? The answer is, yes there is. Amid mental and physical exhaustion, there is a life preserver: a personal liability insurance policy.
With all that said, if history tells us anything, it is that all dark times come to an end and the light eventually rises. Just as my time in Vietnam came to an end, so will this current health crisis. There is a persistent belief in our culture, both in spiritual and secular settings, that suffering can produce good fruit: wisdom, deeper familial ties, camaraderie, gratitude, to name a few. As we begin to emerge from the worst of this pandemic, let us turn our eyes to the coming spring and embrace hope.
By: Bob Blumm, PA-C Emeritus, DFAAPA
PA Advisor to CM&F