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By: Laura Mantine, MD
“Wear the white coat with dignity and pride, it is an honor and privilege to get to serve the public as a physician.”― Bill H. Warren
Physicians display heroism and courage every day in hospitals, nursing homes and clinics. National Doctors’ Day, celebrated on March 30th, is an annual observance aimed at appreciating physicians who help save lives everywhere. The holiday first started in 1933 in Winder, Georgia, and since then it has been honored every year. The idea came from Eudora Brown Almond, wife of Dr. Charles B. Almond, and the date was chosen as it marked the anniversary of the first use of general anesthesia in surgery. This month, National Doctors’ Day continues to highlight many questions, concerns and fears about what the future of medicine holds. The COVID-19 pandemic has already left its indelible mark on American’s health and well-being. Many doctors have courageously set aside their own fears to help those in need, lend a hand to an overburdened colleague, gather supplies and equipment for those who may soon go without, and accelerate the research to develop a vaccine or medication that may bring an end to this pandemic once and for all.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold and upend American life, physicians, nurses, and the health care workforce are leading a remarkable response effort by putting their health and safety on the line every day. There have been many cases in the U.S and around the globe in which physicians have fallen seriously ill or died after treating patients for COVID-19. The physical toll alone is daunting with extremely long and taxing hours at a patient’s bedside. The emotional toll is just as significant, and enough to overwhelm even the most seasoned and experienced doctor. Ultimately, no one can say for sure how long this health threat will last or how much more our nation’s physicians will be asked to give.
The COVID-19 pandemic reminds physicians of the obligation to place a patient’s welfare above our own, the need to protect and promote public health, and the ethical considerations involved in providing care under the most urgent and trying circumstances. Physicians embrace all these responsibilities and more as a routine part of their professional lives. This fact does not diminish the burden a physician will undertake on a patient’s behalf. The selflessness displayed in the face of a deepening health crisis is truly extraordinary.
When physicians are asked why they chose their profession, answers will of course vary. One theme tends to underlie all the responses: a profound commitment to helping others. Physicians are called upon to help in moments like the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Patrice A. Harris, former president of the American Medical Association, said in her inaugural address “Physicians don’t run from challenges. We run toward them.” Physicians undertake these efforts because they are called to do so, not to earn public recognition or thanks. People should thank them and offer heartfelt gratitude and praise, not on National Doctors’ Day but every day.
Anger can be a common emotion we experience when we have lost someone close to us. We seek someone to blame or someone to hold responsible, someone who could have altered fate to erase what happened, and sometimes our target is the person looking back at us in the mirror. Guilt is a form of anger turned inward, and it can be one of the most challenging emotions to overcome. We look back on the time proceeding our loss, searching for something we missed, what we could have done differently, or ways we could have convinced our loved one to seek out a different course of action. Sometimes we look back and wish we had said something that we kept inside or kept something inside we regret saying.
Guilt is complex, and since the beginning of the COVD-19 pandemic it is more pervasive than ever. We might feel guilty because we were unable to visit a loved one during their final days, even if this was a result of precautions or restrictions outside the realm of our control. We might feel guilty for not taking the threat as seriously as we should have, ignoring or forgetting to take the appropriate precautions. Maybe we feel guilty we survived the virus when so many others, including people we knew or loved, succumbed to this terrible disease. This last form is often referred to as u201csurvivoru2019s guilt,u201d and it can be very common among people who live through difficult or traumatic events. We are often ill-equipped to deal with any loss, but no one was prepared for something as widespread as COVID-19.
If you, like so many others, are struggling with guilt related to the pandemic, it can be difficult to find a way to shake how you are feeling. Here are a few things to keep in mind when you are trying to deal with your guilt feelings:
The above suggestions are just a few ways to start down the path to forgiving yourself and getting past your feelings of guilt. If you or someone you know is struggling with issues related to COVD-19 or any other difficult life event, there is help and support available in your community. You can call our agency anytime and our family support staff will help get you to the help you need. You can also reach out to the National Alliance on Mental Illness at 800-950-6264 or if you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of self-harm please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.