Nine months into the pandemic, many health care workers say they’re reaching a breaking point. Though multiple vaccines may be on the way, doctors and nurses are bracing for what health officials say could be one of the most difficult winters in American public health history.
“This has been constant since March. People are just tired,” said Dr. Vishnu Chundi, chairman of the Chicago Medical Society’s COVID-19 task force. He’s an infectious disease specialist, working in several Chicago-area hospitals. “We’re on seven days a week for a lot of us, weekend after weekend. There’s no Saturday, there’s no Sunday, and even after you finish work, [you] still have to go home and chart … With the current surge, we see a long winter, January, February, March, and there’s no end in sight for us.”
Doctors are suffering from fatigue, stress and more death than they’re used to, Chundi said.
“There’s the mental breakdown of seeing patients pass away without family members.There’s no grieving process. You go to the next patient afterwards,” Chundi said. “Everyone’s worn out. At the end of the day we all look at each other and go, ‘Well, we start doing this all over again the next day.”
Health care workers also fear bringing the virus home and spreading it to their loved ones.
“That’s something at the forefront of our minds, catching coronavirus and bringing it home to our loved ones is a very real risk,” said Paul Pater, a member of the Illinois Nurses Association’s board of directors and a nurse in UI Health’s emergency department. “At my hospital, we’ve had people bring coronavirus home and infect their loved ones, and they died,” he said.
Pater said his two nurses at UI Health died from the coronavirus earlier in the pandemic.
“Even now, we still have a number of nurses who are becoming infected, being placed on quarantine and you’re finding that happening in every hospital throughout the city,” Pater said.
Meanwhile, millions traveled over the Thanksgiving weekend and some Americans continue to push back against wearing masks and from following other public health guidelines.
“People want to tell us that we’re heroes and that we’re doing all this very important work, but then they don’t provide us with the dignity of preventing us from having to do that work if we don’t need to. It honestly feels like a stab in the back, to be honest, to say one thing and then do another,” Pater said. “We have a limited number of doctors, nurses and techs to provide the care that is required to get people through this pandemic. If you burn us out, there’s no one left.”