As a new year dawns, what did we learn — and how have we changed?
If you work in the medical field, it’s easy to be a little smug. Over the past 100 years, medical professionals, researchers, and scientists have made wondrous discoveries in the field of medicine and found answers to some of the most complex questions regarding health and the human body. We have plumbed the depths of pathophysiology, decoding disease processes on a cellular and molecular level. We have climbed to the heights of treatment and cure, developing complex surgeries, procedures, and pharmacology. We’ve created machines that can mimic the kidneys and lungs. We use cameras, radiation, and magnetic imaging to view organs, bones, and blood vessels.
As medical professionals, we speak our own private language, a language of complex numbers and letters, a language that even Dr. Google cannot interpret for those uninitiated. It’s so easy for those who belong to this elite club to become haughty because of our knowledge and ability.
Last year I belonged to that club. I thought medicine represented the pinnacle of knowledge and achievement, the ultimate accomplishment that the human race had to offer.
Then COVID-19 came our way.
And with the tsunami of feverish, coughing patients gasping for air came so many questions. How does this disease spread? Why are some carriers asymptomatic while others become deathly ill? Why do men seem to be more adversely affected than women? Why are our patients crashing so rapidly? Which treatments have any actual merit? Should we intubate this patient because his oxygen levels are dangerously low, or leave him be because he’s talking on the phone seemingly without distress? How do you treat a disease when there is no evidence-based practice, no randomized-controlled trials, no textbook guidance?
COVID-19 has been an incredibly humbling experience. It has left us grasping at straws, trying to find some sense in the wave of never-ending symptoms, graphs, and predictions. As one infectious disease specialist put it to me: it has turned the basics of virology literally upside down. It has taught us that despite our piles of textbooks and medical journals, despite our incredible technological capabilities, we are powerless. We are but pawns in the hands of Hakadosh Baruch Hu, and only He is the true Healer.
Last year, I thought medicine represented the pinnacle of knowledge and achievement. This year I stand humbled, with more questions than answers. May this newfound humility allow us to merit complete healing.
Nechama Reiss is the pen name of a healthcare professional who works in a central Brooklyn hospital.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 828)
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