Months into the COVID-19 pandemic, with cases and hospitalizations surging across the country, health care workers are getting burned out mentally and physically.
Sarah Flanagan, a Florida nurse who routinely treats COVID-19 patients, decided to cut back her hours and to switch to working part-time after feeling disheartened by the spread of false claims online about the pandemic. “I feel undervalued and disposable,” she says. She’s also worried about how little the health care system has rewarded front line workers. “Senior colleagues are telling me, ‘I want to leave the bedside, I feel exhausted and I don’t know what to do,'” she says. “It makes me afraid for the future.”
Catherine Lazaro, a respiratory therapist in Washington state, treated one of the first U.S. COVID-19 patients. Over the course of the last nine months, as her hours increased and staff shortages became commonplace, she saw female colleagues leave their jobs, exhausted from the combined demands of child care and housework. Then, a dozen of her coworkers were furloughed. “I kept thinking, why we are in the middle of a respiratory pandemic, battling a respiratory virus, it doesn’t make any sense to furlough respiratory therapists,” she said. As she scrolled through message after message of desperate colleagues, she shared this message on social media: “From Heroes to Zeroes.”
For others, their frustrations have been coupled with worries about bringing the virus home. Sarah Anderson, an OB/GYN in Colorado, decided to continue working and seeing patients while still breastfeeding her five-month-old daughter. “I hope that if I get it I’m creating the antibodies that will help protect [my baby] as well, but nobody really knows that.” She wears a mask at home to avoid exposing her other daughter, who’s five years old, and her husband.
Still, Anderson can’t help but worry. “I’ve been talking with a lot of my colleagues about how the public is saying, ‘Thank you for being on the front lines’, they’re writing us thank-you notes and sending us pizza, ” she says. “We don’t need any of that. What we need is for you to stop exposing us.”
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