ER doctor's day-in-the-life story shows reality for healthcare workers 6 months in

Here we are, six months into the coronavirus pandemic, and people are tired. We're tired of social distancing, wearing masks, the economic uncertainty, the constant debates and denials, all of it.

But no one is more tired than the healthcare workers on the frontline. Those whom we celebrated and hailed as heroes months ago have largely been forgotten as news cycles shift and increased illness and death become "normal." But they're still there. They're still risking themselves to save others. And they've been at it for a long time.

Mary Katherine Backstrom shared her experience as the wife of an ER doctor in Florida, explaining the impact this pandemic is having on the people treating its victims and reminding us that healthcare workers are still showing up, despite all of the obstacles that make their jobs harder.


Backstrom wrote:

"When Ian got home from work last Monday, I could tell it had been a rough shift. He kicked his shoes off on the backdoor stoop as he wrapped up a call with a specialist.

'Please keep me posted,' I heard him say. 'I'm hoping they make some progress.'

He'd been off the clock for at least 3 hours, but was still advocating for a patient.

'Hey baby,' I said when he walked through the door.

'Hey,' he responded with a half-hearted smile. He walked straight past me and the children.

The kids used to squeal and attack their Daddy when he walked through the door from work. It was his favorite thing in the whole wide world, but it's not allowed anymore.

The 'Daddy's Home!' hug has been canceled for some time, now. One more thing the pandemic has stolen.

Ian disappeared into our bedroom after throwing his scrubs straight in the wash. He jumped in the shower and I went outside to sprayed down his shoes with disinfectant.

Twenty minutes later, we sat down for dinner.

I asked him how his work day was. He was worried sick over a patient. They had come to the hospital critically ill, and tested positive for Covid.

'He was terrified, MK. The look on his face broke my heart.'

Ian pushed his chicken around with a fork, but seemed too distracted to eat.

'Do you know what he said to me before he was intubated?' he continued. 'He said he was sorry. He thought the whole thing was a hoax.'

The frustration on Ian's face was plain. He was fighting an uphill battle. How do you save a country that doesn't believe it's sick?

I didn't ask for any more details. I knew how my husband was feeling.

Heck, ask ANY health care worker how they are feeling right now. I can tell you what they're going to say.

They are tired. Bone tired.

Mentally, physically, and spiritually.

Six months later, the pandemic is still here. It's still claiming lives at a horrifying pace.

40,000 lives.

60,000.

100,000.

160,000....

These workers who months ago were hailed as 'heroes' have practically been forgotten. But they are still out there on the frontlines.

Still diagnosing, still intubating, still holding the hands of dying patients. Still risking their health (and the health of their families) by showing up, every day.

They are fighting against a growing monster, that feels more and more unconquerable. Not that it keeps them from doing their job.

Accolades be damned, healthcare workers show up.

As their pay is cut. As nurses are let go. As the pandemic rages on.

Healthcare workers show up.

As the virus spreads. As conspiracy theories abound.

Healthcare workers show up.

They put their N95s in a brown paper lunch sack, praying it works for another week. They make their arrangements 'just in case'...but healthcare workers show up.

***

Two days later at 4 am, I woke to the sound of our Keurig. I rolled out of bed to give Ian a hug and wish him a good day at work. There was a tired sadness in his eyes, so I asked him if something was wrong.

'My patient died,' he said with a sigh. 'The one I was so worried about.'

'I'm so sorry,' I said, hugging him tight. 'You did everything you could.'

The conflict was clear across his face, but he didn't argue the point. He just grabbed his coffee and kissed my cheek, then headed out the door.

Because even when they are devastated. Even when they are tired. Even when they are losing hope. Even as conspiracy theories thrive, medicine is politicized, and sound science is rejected. As an out-of-control pandemic wrecks havoc on the community they serve...

Even then.

Perhaps, especially then.

Healthcare workers show up.

❤️ Healthcare burnout is at an all time high. Please share this message and thank a HCW today. They are STILL everyday heroes. ❤️"

The post has been shared widely, with fellow healthcare workers commenting with gratitude and solidarity:

"Thank you! Psychiatric nurse here. We are so tired and there just isn't enough to go around and still SO MANY that don't believe."

"I work with covid patients. My fellow X-ray techs and I take these patients chest and abdominal X-rays. It has been a battle, to say the least. It's a slap in the face to us to all by those who think it's the flu, or a hoax or don't wear masks. My coworker and I were talking today about how difficult it had been and even though things are better in Illinois, it's still here. We still work, no pay raises, cut hours, shifting of hours and nobody has taken vacation days since all this began. We are sad, tired, burned out and ridden with anxiety. Thank you for the thank you."

"[Thank you] for your observation and words of encouragement to all of us in this field. It is scary, heartbreaking and devastating, never would I have imagined encountering something like this in my career as I'm sure others have felt the same."

"Love this story, and it makes me sad at the same time, because this is about as close to the truth as it gets 😢 I work in EMS, and it's so disheartening, that people aren't taking this seriously, and they believe that masks are of no help at all! Please people, wake up....I will pray, that you aren't my next patient 😔"

"Yes! My husband is in EMS and has been caring for Covid patients several times a shift for months. He and at least 14 others in his service are out with Covid currently. We've been so careful but there's only so much you can do when it's your job. My entire family has it currently and it's awful. Hugs."

"This is so so true! As an ICU nurse I know the death of COVID all too well 😔 I try to avoid the ignorance of non-medical people, their misguided information frustrates and saddens me."

"I'm a health care worker. I was saying to my husband as I'm starting a 5 day rotation. I told him I'm filled with dread. My stomach is queasy, my heart hurts. I'm on the verge of tears.We are pushed to our limits. We're a small rural hospital, we get PPE but we have to take care of it until it's worn out or no longer safe. More rooms for COVID added weekly. All I can do is pray for safety of myself and my co workers. This thing is so real. I know how Ian feels. Much love MK."

"My husband is a nurse. He cares deeply for his patients. Covid is breaking his heart. We have to stay completely separate from him because on of our sons has leukemia. He lives in two rooms of our home. Climbs in and out of a window. He can't be hugged by his family! It is frustrating to read the posts that say this a political virus or a hoax. I am praying for your husband along with all our frontline workers."

"I am in RN in a COVID ICU and it's devastating what this disease is doing to people and so incredibly heartbreaking. Thank you for posting this as I do feel we have been forgotten."

Here's to all the healthcare workers who continue to show up, continue to care, continue to put their own lives and health on the line to save others. They continue to be the heroes of this battle and deserve our continued, unbridled support.


True

Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

Keep Reading Show less
Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less