- Alix Atwell is a registered nurse with 30 years’ experience working in California, New York, and Illinois. She left the field two years ago.
- The entire medical field is being drafted into a war, she writes, but the government is not protecting its soldiers on the front lines.
- Medical care workers need adequate staffing ratios, safe working conditions, proper training, and adequate supplies and resources.
- She and her fellow nurses have been sounding the alarm for years, but the message landed on ‘deaf, greedy ears.’
- This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
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Dear Uncle Sam,
You are asking me to step up and hear your call, to once again don my scrubs and clogs for my fellow man, to fight COVID-19. My heart and hands are ready. They were born for this moment. They know instinctively what to do. After 30 years of bedside experience, they can place an IV in a rock and can hold the delicate silence of suffering without breaking it. But the voice in my head screams, “NO!”
You are asking me to enter a war, the scope of which many in our government refuse to acknowledge, much less adequately fund. To go into battle, naked and unarmed. There is no developed weapon to kill this enemy. You offer no camouflage (personal protective equipment) to hide from it. There are insufficient tanks and artillery (ventilators) to fight off the virus. There is no clear strategy or leadership to win this war. Tactics have been replaced by antics; logistics by illusion.
The commander in chief is not a soldier. He is a narcissist who lacks empathy and regard for human life. He does not care. Care does not factor into the GDP, and he bows only to the Dow. He has tunnel vision. If we continue down his tunnel, a large sum of us will get to see the almighty bright light at its end.
The entire medical field — my former colleagues — has been drafted. There’s been no consideration for age or underlying health conditions, no deferment for bone spurs, or asthma for that matter. They have been thrust onto the front lines and could die for the cause. But they are NOT replaceable.
A military soldier would be granted privileges for such sacrifice. Where is the nurse hazard pay, the doctor death gratuity, the orderly survivor benefit plan for the bereft spouses and children should their loved one die in battle? Who will award the hospital housekeeper funeral honors or a Purple Heart?
And let’s talk about PTSD. Even before the COVID-19 crisis, the average burnout rate for an ICU nurse was two years. I know — I survived three, early in my career, before switching over to labor and delivery.
The emotional toll of a bedside caregiver is immeasurable. Like a soldier returning from the battlefield, a medical worker’s mental health must be considered and supported. Who will care for the caregiver casualties when and if they return home?
I left the hospital battlefield a couple of years ago, but I spent 30 years on the front lines, fighting side by side with my coworkers for adequate staffing ratios, safe working conditions, and proper training, all while compassionately tending to the sick and wounded with inadequate supplies and resources.
We have been sweating and bleeding in the trenches for years, without breaks to eat or pee, forced to do overtime, sacrificing family and health, trying our best to do no harm, and to avoid patient abandonment, all while our administrations and government repeatedly abandon us.
We’ve individually and collectively been begging our leaders to hear our pleas for a single-payer system so our society is no longer beholden to drug companies and insurance companies and corporate greed, but instead to the wellbeing of our community, our country.
We in the healthcare field have all known this battle was coming. We did TED talks about it. We wrote articles in peer reviewed journals about it. We believe in science. We know its capacity for good, and for bad. We pleaded for preparedness after SARS in 2003, with H1N1 in 2009, and again with Ebola in 2014. We have been sounding the alarm for years. The message never arrived up the chain of command. Or if it did, it landed on deaf, greedy ears concerned only for profits and not prevention.
And now you are sounding the alarm and are asking me to step up.
I respectfully ask in return, will you?
Alix Atwell is an RN with experience working in the ER, ICU and Labor and delivery. She has worked in California, New York, and Illinois. She left the field two years ago to pursue a writing career.