The feeling of a broken heart is distinctive. It combines the existential dread of a nightmare with the nausea and pain of severe food poisoning. There is a time-dilating property as well, a misery that seems eternal until it finally stops. I thought I’d never have to experience it again — I’ve been happily married for 25 years to a wonderful woman, one who knows me and cherishes me, thick and thin.
A heart can only be broken by something that it loves, and here I sit, astonished and dismayed that the city to which I’ve given my life is failing at its task. I love Tulsa; the vibrancy of its culture, the beauty of its art deco buildings, the music and the food and its wonderful people.
I meet them on the worst days of their lives, in my busy urban Emergency Department, and am constantly astounded by their grace and strength in adversity.
COVID-19 is taking so much from us. It takes playdates, birthday parties, gymnastic meets. It takes away our work, our health and sometimes our lives.
It is all so unnecessary. Consistent mask-wearing, hand-washing and social distancing by all of our community would drive levels of the disease to a manageable state in weeks. If we do not do these things, our hospitals will soon be overrun, and people will suffer and die because there’s “no room at the inn.”
Now, some facts:
COVID-19 is not a hoax, or overblown or going away soon with herd immunity.
People who die of it would not have died but for this disease.
No doctors are falsifying charts to say a patient died of COVID-19 if they did not.
Strategies that emphasize protecting only the vulnerable and elderly and letting everyone else get sick don’t work. They do not protect the vulnerable from a virus that spreads without symptoms and will lead to unacceptable death rates.
Masks slow the spread of the virus. So does washing your hands. So does social distancing — try for six feet away.
Indoor venues — churches, weddings, restaurants, bars, nightclubs — cause large outbreaks, so just stay home.
Stay home, as much as you possibly can. The more you do, the faster we can return to a normal life.
You may not have symptoms, and you can spread it even if you don’t — with deadly consequences.
We do not have extra hospital capacity ... or nursing capacity ... or spare doctors to recruit. We are exhausting our health care workers, and some are leaving and do not return.
Emergency Department physicians come in all shapes, sizes and colors of the rainbow, but one thing unites us — we run toward the danger, never away. Our training and mindset give us the confidence to do so, a “happy warrior” mentality that strives to conquer disease and heal the sick.
I teach the residents, doctors who are gaining the skills and knowledge that will create lifesavers for life. I was unsurprised when, in April during the first surge, none of my residents availed themselves of our offer to avoid seeing COVID-19 patients. Not the new parents. Not the ones with ill loved ones to care for. Not the ones at personal risk. They ran toward the danger.
I am not a hero. I laugh when I see that canard in the media. These young doctors, risking it all for others with a mountain of debt facing them and new families to start, definitely are.
Even if you feel no personal risk, even if it’s unpleasant or inconvenient, won’t you help them? They need you. Tulsa needs you. My brave and endlessly caring nurses, techs and other team members need you.
Wear your mask. Stay at home. Help us save lives.
Dr. Joshua Gentges, D.O., is the research director and an associate professor of emergency medicine for the Oklahoma University Department of Emergency Medicine.
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