Empathy Through a Pandemic

Premier Pulse     December 2021

1326106436By Percy Mitchell, MD, medical staff president, Atrium Medical Center

As we approach the date when all Premier Health physicians, nurses, staff, and employees will be required to be vaccinated from the horrendous COVID-19 virus, now responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths in our country alone, I want to express my gratitude to everyone making the decision to accept the vaccination.

However, we are not free of this menace. We are all aware of losses of family, coworkers, friends, and strangers. Through the hard work of many over an extended period, our numbers are improving.

At the outset, pre-vaccination availability was “all hands on deck.” These hands were physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted. During this difficult period, fatigue was overwhelming and most of our teams dealt with extreme stress.

As vaccinations became available, we saw some patterns develop in which younger people were dying - most of whom were unvaccinated. This led to a conclusion that these deaths are, for the most part, preventable.

The premise to “do no harm” or to “do our best to promote health” has been sharply challenged when demands are made or questions are asked as to why Ivermectin, for example, was not used in the treatment of a dying relative. These pressures can lead to a dangerous state of mind now known in some circles as “empathy fatigue.” This fatigue can lead to feelings of anger, uselessness, and burnout.

As a psychiatrist, I understand frustration and anger are energy-expending and unproductive. My office has been utilized by individuals burned out by the pressures of this once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. Not everyone is easily capable of empathy, and many do not see the harm that they do to others by superimposing disinformation into the medical arena until they, themselves, are directly impacted. I often hear, “I had no idea.”

We are doing a good job staying focused on medical data in our quest for safety and health. Thank you all.

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