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COVID Crisis Post 15: Empathy in the Face of Death.

Do my screenshots from TODAY make this real enough for people yet?

I received those text messages this morning while I was writing this post from my distraught friend Carie. I'm at home and go in for my overnight shift later this evening, but those texts shocked me. A lot. Because of how real and scary and sad this is.

People, this is happening.

I whited-out any identifying info of the Manhattan hospital where she witnessed this from because this is not just an isolated incident. This is either happening or is going to happen outside of many hospitals in all of the boroughs. Guaranteed.

Yes, there were empty tents and refrigeration trucks with no one in them. It could all have just been a ploy to stoke hysteria, this author himself being accused of doing so. Or maybe they were being built in preparation for the bodies we, as healthcare providers, all knew would inevitably come.

And they came.

If you need your visuals, I would say go and see for yourself though, actually, you should be STAYING THE F#&K HOME.

But many don't or won't listen so go and see and finally get into your head that this is not some sick joke or false hysteria. And then socially distance. And then wash your hands. And then STAY THE F HOME.

So many say stop comparing this pandemic to war. It's hard to take something so seriously when the threat is invisible or has not impacted you in any personal way. There are no bombs exploding, or people screaming as they run away, or video footage of terrorist threats or people injured or maimed or dying to make it real for people, to remove all doubt.

But maybe that's because when this disease gets severe, these patients cannot scream. They cannot run. They cannot even breathe because they feel like they are drowning. Or maybe, no matter bow hard they struggle, they are unable to reach the surface.

And maybe the explosions are of the silent kind at first, those of hearts bursting within loved ones chests. And then maybe screams will be heard, but not from the one who just passed.

You will not see our hospital rooms and ICUs filled full of sick COVID-19+ patients, many intubated, many who are dying.

There are obvious reasons for this, both HIPAA and risk of unnecessary exposure. But the biggest reason?

Because most have not earned the privilege to take care of those so ill and whose families depend on your knowledge and skill to heal so they can one day hug their loved one once more. Some have already lost their chance.

There are those of us who are constantly on the move, like many of our emergency medicine colleagues and first-responders. There are those of us where it is not as intense at all times. But ultimately, our roles as healthcare providers are to stabilize the sick, to minimize the chaos. We try to make our world as boring as possible, not a made-for-tv drama.

But even when chaos cannot be controlled, you will not see us putting out our own metaphorical fires when a patient is crashing while we rush to don on our PPE safely so we can both protect ourselves and save a life.

There are many of us who have, or find ways to, create downtime so we can heal and reset. There is a mental toll illness and death takes on each one of us. Some of us are lucky and find ways to cope and keep moving forward.

But not all of us. And many will never see friends and colleagues who struggle to maintain their composure in the face of death, bawling tears of sorrow for someone they did not know personally but whose well-being became personal to them nonetheless. Tears for those who never had the chance to say goodbye.

Everyones experience is unique. What one may think is something minor could be the opposite for someone else. Each one of us should respect the feelings and thoughts of others and at least attempt to understand their views.

We would be a better world if that were the case.

This is called empathy. Though not everyone is the same kind of empath.

There is cognitive empathy, where one may understand another's perspective but not understand it. Mind is greater than heart.

There is emotional empathy, where one physically feel the emotions of another but can get overwhelmed by it. Heart is greater than mind.

And then there is compassionate empathy, where one both understands the person's perspective and feels for their situation at the same time, and is moved to help.

Compassionate empathy is what drove me to be a physician. It is what drove so many of us into healthcare in the first place and allows us to keep moving forward even in the midst of tragedy.

I am not journaling to try to convince the world that what I see is true, though I hope some will listen. I am journaling for my own sake to make sense of my world, as a catharsis.

I believe my feelings and experiences are valuable, worthy of being shared. Just as I value those who share their feelings and experiences with me, even if at first it does not seem believable.

Like my friend Carie.

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