How healthcare workers went from ‘heroes to villains’

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The patient of Dr Sheryl Recinos refused to accept her diagnosis of Covid-19. Her cough was due to the scent of Recinos, insisted the patient, certain that her positive Covid-19 test could not be correct.

But Recinos, a family medicine hospitalist in California, was not wearing perfume. The test result, Recinos told his patient, was correct.

Interaction, in the summer of 2020, was an outlier at the time. But in recent months, such conversations have become more common.

Recinos has treated people who, after two weeks of hospitalization for Covid-related respiratory problems, still do not believe they have the coronavirus. She has had patients who questioned her judgment, patients who asked to receive the same medications that former President Donald Trump received when he had Covid, and family members of patients who yelled at him for something as simple as giving their loved ones oxygen, a necessary treatment that , according to them, does more harm than good.

“It’s confusing. I’ve never seen anything like it, ”said Recinos, who works 12-hour shifts for 20 consecutive days. “Many of us have worked so long and for so many hours, and we are underestimated by the general public. ”

Dr Sheryl Recinos, seen in March 2020, wearing homemade personal protective equipment made from a welder’s hat while PPE was still scarce.Dr Sheryl Recinos

The fourth wave of the pandemic posed unique challenges for frontline healthcare workers, many of whom were already approaching their breaking point.

Exhausted by the hospital staff shortage and emotionally drained, healthcare workers are now also facing growing patient skepticism and rage, leaving workers frustrated and fearful.

“Our patients don’t trust us anymore,” said Amy Arlund, a nurse in an intensive care unit in Fresno, Calif. “A year and a half ago, the emotion that accompanied the influx of these patients was sympathy, empathy, remorse, guilt – and that well of emotion has dried up. What remains is anger, hostility and mistrust.

The problem is increasingly present across the country. In Missouri, a hospital is equipping its staff with panic buttons after assaults on patients tripled last year. In Idaho, family members who do not believe Covid is real have accused doctors and nurses of killing patients. And in a Massachusetts hospital, at least two or three nurses are assaulted by patients every day, according to the WBUR Boston NPR station.

In interviews, doctors and nurses said they felt defeated, either by increasing patient animosity or by the refusal of many in their communities to accept that masks and vaccines are being used. safe and effective ways to keep people from overwhelming first-place hospitals.

All have called for the institutions that employ them and, in some cases, the cities in which they work to be omitted from this article to protect their safety and because their views do not reflect those of their employers.

Dr. Mona Masood, Founding Psychiatrist and Chief Organizer of Physician Support Line, a confidential hotline she set up for doctors at the start of the pandemic, said more doctors have called lately to express they were the target of the vitriol.

“We call it the ‘heroes’ tale to villains’,” Masood said, adding that at the start of the pandemic, when health workers were fired with nightly displays of gratitude, doctors felt they were being celebrated as heroes, but feared that they did not have enough tools to meet this expectation.

Now, she said, doctors are calling the doctor helpline, feeling overwhelmed by the brutality with which they are being treated. Sometimes, she says, they call quickly during their shifts.

“They call us and they say, ‘Let me go out with you so I can go back, because God forbid, I’m not the most professional I can be – people are going to blame me for that too,’ “she said.” They feel like they’re trapped.

“We had very few breaks”

Staff shortage in the medical profession backdate pandemic, but have become particularly pronounced as hospitals have swelled with Covid patients.

“Everyone is in crisis mode all the time,” Arlund said. “Your body isn’t supposed to maintain this for 18 straight months.”

Until last month, Arlund was a crisis nurse, a specialist position that required her to care for intensive care patients most at risk for deterioration. In recent months, these patients have been asking for treatments like ivermectin, a bogus cure for Covid; asked for drugs she had never heard of in her two decades as a nurse; and generally expressed suspicion towards herself and her colleagues.

In mid-September, Arlund had a Covid patient whose oxygen level was well below what it should have been. The patient refused to wear a specialized oxygen mask or agree to sleep on his stomach, a measure intended to help him avoid using a ventilator.

When Arlund and his colleagues ordered him to put on the oxygen mask, the patient – turning purple at the time – responded that Arlund was blocking his view of the football game he was watching on TV.

“Our patients don’t trust us anymore,” said Amy Arlund, intensive care nurse in Fresno, Calif.Amy arlund

“I reached my point where I just had to walk away,” said Arlund, who has lost six colleagues to the coronavirus. She resigned from her post as a crisis nurse, while remaining an intensive care nurse.

Attacks on people in the medical field are not limited to the interior of hospitals. Dr Kellie Snooks, a doctor at a pediatric intensive care unit in Wisconsin, said pediatricians were being criticized on social media for urging schools to demand masks.

Snooks stand fervently behind the mask warrants. As the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus spread, its pediatric intensive care unit was filled to capacity, which before the pandemic rarely happened.

“People think healthcare workers have hidden agendas, and we don’t,” Snooks said, adding she was baffled that even with the science proving that masks stop the spread of the virus and that vaccines are safe, there is always opposition. “We just want people to be healthy, and we burn out and stress out doing it.”

How to help ease the burden

Masood, the founder of Physician Support Line, said healthcare workers need more mental health support, starting with changes in the culture of medical school, when residents who work the most shifts work in a row are often the ones that receive the most praise.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, these resources can help

Its helpline has received 3,000 calls since March 2020 and is currently receiving its highest volume of calls. The 800 volunteer psychiatrists who answer the line give callers resources for more support if they need it at the end of the call, or strategies such as mindfulness exercises.

“We really do our best to give the public the information they need to protect themselves, but our words are only powerful if they are willing to take it seriously.”

emergency nurse MAWATA KAMARA

For Mawata Kamara, an emergency room nurse in California, taking days off for mental health has been helpful. She also began to cut back on extra shifts, which she felt she could not do during the first and second outbreaks of the pandemic.

“I don’t get burned anymore,” Kamara said.

She and the other health workers interviewed for this article pleaded with people to immunize themselves and their families.

“We are really doing our best to give the public the information they need to protect themselves, but our words are only powerful if they are willing to take it seriously,” Kamara said.

Mawata Kamara, emergency room nurse in California.Mawata Kamara

Others said they were asking people to do everything possible to stay out of the hospital.

It’s not just about getting the vaccine, wearing a mask and practicing good hand hygiene, said Lindsey Harris, president of the Alabama State Nurses Association.

“How do we prevent these comorbidities – diabetes, heart disease, those things – where patient outcomes might be better if they get Covid?” ” she said.

For Recinos, the family medicine hospitalist, writing has always been an outlet for her and it has helped her cope with the pandemic.

When the fourth wave began, Recinos could not bear to suffer as many losses as last year. She was temporarily transferred from her home county of Los Angeles County, which has a low vaccination rate, to a hospital in a county where the vaccination rate is much higher.

She still sees Covid patients, and the problem of misinformation is pervasive everywhere, she said.

“I have never admitted a patient for a vaccine reaction, but I have admitted so many patients for Covid,” she said. “I don’t understand why it had to become political.

If you are a doctor or medical student in need of mental health support, call the Physician Helpline at 1-888-409-0141 from 8 a.m.ET to 1 a.m.ET, seven days a week. Calls are free and confidential. Other frontline healthcare workers and first responders can receive free and confidential support from Magellan Health SMS and crisis line.


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