Days morphed into weeks, into months. It’s now been over a year, and the world is still living in the shadow of COVID. The world has changed; I have changed.
There is a sense of vulnerability now, more so than any time in recent years. Well, maybe the exception would be on September 11, 2001, when two small planes purposefully crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center. The facade of our nation has a fracture in it, which seemingly, continues to grow. Racial discord, accusations of police brutality, climate change, social injustice, poverty, and homelessness all stare us squarely in the face. Will these same issues be passed on to the next generation to solve, or will we take a stand to make positive changes?
Sometimes I feel like I am living in another lifetime, a time when everything seems to have been turned upside down. The early stages of the pandemic had me in the throes of sheer fear and anxiety as the virus spread without any effective means to control or combat it. Death and despair seemed to be everywhere, and our frontline health care heroes were doing their best to fight this stealthy enemy. Working long and grueling shifts, they often felt like expendable cogs in the corporate machine. Shame on those health care corporations that did not give these individuals the honor and respect they earned through their sacrifices.
My trust in my government has been tested. We were promised that this virus would soon pass. We found, sadly, that this was not the case. Our government seemed to fail us at a time we needed its guidance the most. Eyes seemed turned on the politics of the day instead of citizens contracting COVID and dying. Red versus blue, us versus them… what a black stain on our history.
Finally, glimmers of light shone through the dark clouds when the announcement of promising vaccines to combat the virus became known to the public. But the process of developing a vaccine to injecting it eventually into arms has been a tedious one. In addition, there was and is much skepticism about the efficacy of the vaccines offered. Add to that a lackluster campaign to win over the population’s minds has had, unfortunately, some people taking a “wait and see” attitude.
With adequate supplies of vaccines now available, we see the end of the tunnel, the end of the pandemic is within our grasp. We must strive to ensure the importance of getting vaccinated reverberates to all sectors of our population, especially those within the Afro-American, Hispanic, and Native American communities which have been especially hard hit by COVID. This is imperative if our society is to return to some form of normalcy once again.
But there is an additional problem waiting in the shadows that will have to be addressed, which is our nation’s mental health. How do we emerge post-pandemic? After more than a year where our lives have been restricted, friends and families separated, lives lost to COVID, stress and anxiety levels pushed to their limits, how do we push forward to this new normalcy? We can not simply “unsee” what we have experienced. We have all read in the media recent reports of a son murdering his parents, a young mother murdering her 3-year-old daughter. The emotional burden of the past year has been heavy, and it won’t go away by simply wishing it away.
As a nation, we must make an effort to make mental health resources available to all those in need. And yes, I am aware that there is a shortage of trained mental health care workers in our country. This shortage also includes other areas of health care, such as the area of primary care. Why not work toward increasing the number of residency positions available, giving loan cancellations after a specified period of service? At the same time, why won’t our health care systems recognize our physicians and nurses as the trained and skilled professionals that they are? They are human beings who have taken oaths to be of service to humankind. Their personal and professional sacrifices have been many, so why not come up with ways to show them that they are invaluable resources. Maybe the field of medicine will once again become a profession that our “best and brightest” will consider entering instead of being told to avoid.
Michele Luckenbaugh is a patient advocate.
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