I haven't been as prolific in my writing lately. I picked up my kids from an extended stay at my parents' home in California, and they've taken up their usual space in my life again. My worries about them and the coming school year, however, have taken up more space than usual. I work on our school district's task force for school reopening, and I watch our local COVID-19 numbers like a hawk.
The data about COVID-19 also means something to me professionally. I am a full-time family physician who works inpatient medicine and labor and delivery, as well as outpatient medicine. I worked three months of inpatient COVID-19 medicine, including 28 night shifts. I watched people die. I had heartbreaking conversations with families. When both my in-laws got sick, I sent my husband to care for them while I managed their symptoms through him. It was scary.
The data also means something personally. I finally brought my kids home after three months of not seeing them. My parents had seemed relatively safe in their small town in California, but now the case numbers are encroaching on them.
Here in Massachusetts, we've seen our numbers simmer. Simmer, but not be extinguished. Massachusetts has become trapped in yellow. Not green. Not red. Yellow.
Now, I'm sure most people in Massachusetts treat yellow traffic lights the same way I do. We treat them like a lingering green light. If we just speed through, it's good! But, that isn't the case this time.
The simmer has put our R0 back above 1. We are keeping the COVID-19 flame alive. And now we are collecting the kindling for a boil. We're into Phase 3 reopening. Gyms. Restaurants. Casinos. All the while, our school task force is continuing to draft our three school plans as directed by our education commissioner. One plan for full reopening, one for complete remote learning, and one for a hybrid model.
Today, I find myself hopeless. I find myself angry. How can our society place gyms, casinos, religious gatherings and restaurants above schools? How can it continue to politicize mask-wearing and protecting our citizens? How can it continue to sacrifice essential workers? Why are we wasting time coming up with a full-time open model if we are just now meeting the requirements for Phase 3 reopening?
More personally, why are people wasting MY time? I worry my full-scope family medicine job will once again become focused on inpatient COVID-19 surge planning and treatment.
My heart will break with my patients' suffering again.
I will be separated from my children again.
My parents taught me that if I don't have something nice to say, I should not say anything at all.
I have nothing nice to say.
Yet, I have plenty to say.
I feel betrayed. I feel betrayed by our government leaders. I feel betrayed by neighbors and friends who believe the disinformation campaigns that deny masks' effectiveness, that deny this disease's gravity.
I feel betrayed by sexism. Working essential moms are being pummeled by this. I am the source of income and insurance in my family. I must show up to work to keep my family afloat. I still haven't been paid for all the shifts I have worked, and I don't know if I ever will be. I will have to choose my job for my children, which will mean not seeing them as much, if at all. It is such an incredible luxury to choose to keep children home, to be able to work safely and gainfully from home, to be able to have safe and healthy help for children at home.
Those are luxuries that I and many essential workers don't have. My nursing friends, my teacher friends, my furloughed friends, my parent friends who have to balance work and children -- my heart just breaks for all of us. I don't feel like an essential worker. I feel like a disposable worker.
Former game show host Chuck Woolery, in a recent tweet, accused physicians and others of misleading the public about the pandemic: "Everyone is lying. The CDC, Media, Democrats, our Doctors, not all but most, that we are told to trust. I think it's all about the election and keeping the economy from coming back, which is about the election. I'm sick of it."
Woolery later deleted his Twitter account after his son tested positive for COVID-19, but not before President Trump retweeted the comments above to his 83.6 million followers.
If my colleagues and I are painted as liars for telling the truth regarding what we see in our clinics and in our hospitals, if we are not paid for the shifts we work to save lives in this pandemic, if the data is altered or hidden from public view, and if we are forced to do the same work again due to a resurgence created in part by state and federal governments not taking enough action against this disease, how are we supposed to feel?
Today is not my day, friends. I am just devastated by the moral injury against us.
MaryAnn Dakkak, M.D., M.S.P.H., practices full-scope family medicine and is an assistant professor at Boston Medical Center. She is also women's health director at Manet Community Health Centers. Her views do not represent those of the organizations with which she is affiliated.