Many in our nation see COVID-driven requirements as anathema to their independence, but what if mandates are actually the best way to secure our personal liberties?
As COVID-19 continues to rage around the world, extended quarantine measures have been responsible for saving innumerable lives. Now, as we slowly catch glimpses of light at the end of the tunnel, or face the possibility of rising cases returning us to the heights of the pandemic, it is important to examine the long-term side effects of our self-prescribed quarantine treatment.
With the development and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine and the arrival of the summer season, people are feeling happier and beginning to come out of their homes. It’s clear that there is a growing sense of hope that the pandemic may be approaching its conclusion. However, standing in the way of our pursuit of normalcy is the refusal among some to partake in the vaccine, despite its proven efficacy and safety by experts.
Open sewage ran beside homes made of handmade brick in Pau da Lima. My path to this favela, like my journey in medicine, felt unconventional. I realized microbes may have coincidentally been the root of my decision to pursue a career in medicine.
The idea of prescribing housing sounds too good to be true, the exact kind of thing you would expect to see on a medical drama. It couldn’t possibly work in real life … or could it?
For many of the elderly and their families, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a scary and trying time. A major concern has been the physical health and safety of this vulnerable population. In addition to community infection control measures like social distancing and avoidance of public gatherings to slow the initial spread of the outbreak, public health officials have also endeavored to protect high-risk populations by recommending electronic visits with loved ones, whether they are at private homes, nursing homes, or in the hospital.
Our illness narrative, the COVID narrative, is about so much more than regaining health (though I acknowledge that for those afflicted by the disease, overcoming the debilitating circumstances may be more than can even be hoped for). Returning to Frank’s ideas, our narrative is about rediscovering the voice that was stolen by forces beyond our control.
As physicians, we must work to lift patients up when they are struggling, rather than shaming them into well-being. As Dr. Donald Berwick once noted, it is not always patients’ diagnoses, but their helplessness that kills them. Indeed, the helplessness we instill through our focus on individualism and molecular pathology in the clinical setting will ensure that this epidemic kills millions prematurely and costs billions of dollars. If obesity is a disease caused by society — its inequities, trauma, and expectations — then the solution for obesity should address more than just the patient sitting in front of us.
In 2018, a patient filed a complaint against a medical student for wearing a “Black Lives Matter” pin on her white coat. When the student reached out to her school’s administration, she received this response: “It is best to not raise barriers in the way we present ourselves … Some of your political pins may offend some people, and it is probably best not to wear them on your white coat or while you are working in a professional role.”
The notion that a person’s health is only impacted by the clinical care they receive is not a reasonable one. Currently, as a first-year medical student, I have had the privilege to learn from a variety of professionals that have once again reminded me why I am on this path and why I want to serve underserved populations.
Regardless, with this data in mind, it is important for students in medical education to understand that we are entering the profession at a time where the reputation that precedes us is not ideal. This also means that the capacity to alter this perception is dependent on the way we practice upon entering the workforce.
I entered the office of the Community Health Council of Wyandotte County, Kansas City, on a muggy, late-summer day during my family medicine rotation. The air-conditioned building boasted a large front room with sporadically placed desks, children’s books and toys, and what looked like a large food pantry. I flexed my elbows and wagged my arms to fan out the sweat from my Black body enshrouded in my white coat.