Op-Ed: On the COVID frontlines, we’re tired of hearing lame excuses for risky behavior
In my world, there is a lot of anger — most of it kept professionally hidden.
In emergency rooms and intensive care units across the country, frontline nurses, respiratory therapists and doctors like me have been in danger every day for eight months. Smothered in PPE, we’re doused in coronavirus every day while we take care of the very sick, the worried well and the dying. Some of the dead aren’t patients; some are colleagues, friends and our own families.
We are furious and we are exhausted. And now we face again the flooding of our hospitals.
We’re tired of seeing patients who got the virus after their kid’s “limited” birthday party or because they went out to a restaurant dinner with “close friends” or flew to a celebration in a state “that didn’t have much COVID.”
It didn’t have to be this way.
We bent the curve, then let it bend right back. Distracted and tired, our focus faded.
Fall is aptly named. People aren’t made to be perfect, but damn, we should be better than this.
What you do — how we ALL act in the next six weeks — will make the difference between an inconvenient fall and a disaster that will take years to overcome.
Until months AFTER the vaccines arrive, the same simple steps will be required. Not just in California, but also across our un-United States.
Wear a mask whenever you leave the house. Stop doing dumb stuff, like going to parties, destination weddings and the French Laundry. Stop listening to know-nothings who spout “science” on YouTube and Twitter.
Stop being crybabies about a little inconvenience. We already have more than 250,000 reasons to weep — and to be thankful we are alive and can still do something about it.
So avoid crowds. Wash your hands. Stay home. Why is this so hard?
You may have noticed that I’m a little bit on edge.
The problem is, people don’t understand the danger. Yes, you may have attended a party and you’re fine. You’re young, you’re healthy. What’s the problem?
If you don’t understand, go back and read a story by Karen Kaplan in this newspaper. She reported how a single wedding of 55 people in Maine infected 27 guests. None of them died and some didn’t even have symptoms. So, no big deal, right? Wrong. The infected guests went on to infect others, who in turn spread it themselves. Over the next 38 days, the wedding was responsible for infecting at least 176 people, and seven of them died.
Multiply that mistake thousands of times across our country and you have real trouble. You don’t have to get sick to transmit COVID. You can kill someone you’ve never met in another state, or their mother, or they can kill yours.
What you do matters.
We’ve reached that place in the movie where there are so many zombies we have to hide in the basement. Except the zombies are down there with us, fresh from an “essential” shopping trip, and now their kid has a cough.
So this column is a warning, a confession and a cry for unity — perhaps even patriotism.
If you come to me in the ER, you’ll never know what I’m thinking about you or your choices. Like the virus, I don’t care if you’re from Orange County or North Dakota. You’ll get 100% from me and my crew, no matter who you are or what you did — or didn’t — do. Even if you say this is a political conspiracy or a test of “liberty,” or you call us “sheeple.”
COVID doesn’t care how you vote, where you live or if you die. The fire burns all around us and we are dry grass, from sea to shining sea.
In my world, we are deeply disheartened to realize that, as a country, the United States can’t unite as other countries have, and that the work of crushing this virus turned out to be too complicated for our leaders and our neighbors. Now we are in danger of losing perhaps half a million people or more.
It makes front-liners like me feel as though our work doesn’t matter.
The way people, including the president, are behaving seems un-American. How can the world’s strongest democracy be unwilling to fight a winnable war on our own soil to protect our own lives and those of our neighbors? A lot of us won’t even don masks to aid the fight.
As I put on my PPE before a shift in the ER, I think of seasick WWII soldiers, riding toward a beach as other young men on shore tried to kill them in the surf. Compared to what they faced, what I do is easy.
Then, no one knew how long the war would last or if they would survive. People back home collected rubber and bacon grease for years, gave up countless liberties and luxuries, and no one ever called the war a hoax, even if they never saw a Nazi in their backyard.
We’re eight months into COVID. World War II lasted six years and a day. The Great Depression lasted 10 years. The 1918 flu lasted two years and two months.
Are we really that soft? That careless? That selfish?
It’s great news that a vaccine is likely to come soon, but don’t depend on it to save you and the people you love. Like the last man shot in war, you might get the virus before you get the vaccine.
There is still time to save lives. Stay at home, and when you have to go out, wear your mask everywhere. Break the virus chain. Do it for yourself. Do it for those you love. Do it for your country.
Come, be a hero.
Mark Morocco is a Los Angeles physician and professor of emergency medicine.
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