Giving thanks to our healers
While Congress has been home due to COVID-19, I’ve spent part of my time volunteering with my fellow medical professionals in my home state of Kansas. I’ve been testing and treating COVID patients – in clinics, emergency rooms and Intensive Care units – to do my small part and better support our professionals’ sacrifices during these difficult times.
My first COVID-19 patient in the ER was a frightened gentleman who didn’t speak much English. After we placed the oxygen mask over his face and his labored breathing started to slow, his gasps turned into deep breaths, his nodding turned into words, and a look in his eyes showed relief and gratitude. That look is why those of us in health care run to the battle. That look of comfort and relief is the all the reward any of us in medicine need to keep going.
It has been 30 years since I graduated from medical school, and three years since I left my OB/GYN practice for Congress, but I hadn’t forgotten that look. He would soon go to the ICU, where I had just finished my rounds. There were some nine patients already in the ICU, all who had similar stories. These patients were intubated, and the hospital was almost out of ventilators. Luckily, thanks to a call we placed to the Trump administration the day before, the White House task force had more ventilators, along with more personal protective equipment (PPEs) and critical medicines on the way.
Nurses, pharmacists, respiratory therapists, doctors and health care providers across the country have been on the front line of testing and treating patients, exposing themselves to this invisible enemy to fulfill the oath they took as healers. There are varied estimates of the number of health care providers who have contracted the virus or died as a result, but we owe all of them an extreme debt of gratitude. Many health care providers, like other professions, have chosen to move out of the home, and separate themselves from their family, lest they expose them as well. We owe a debt of gratitude to their families as well.
I especially want to tip my hat to the many doctors and nurses who have left their states to go help others. One I’m especially proud of is Dr. Steve Short, who left his pulmonary practice in Manhattan, Kan., to help the overwhelming number of sick in Manhattan, New York. Though he originally planned to be gone a week or two, he stayed for months. His work in the ICU will never be forgotten by the doctors, nurses and patients he served. This is the story of many health care professionals from nearly every state. As the cry for help rang out, they took not only their medical skills, but a message of hope in humanity to help each other out.
We must not forget the many first responders, EMS workers, police officers and others who are helping fight this virus. Often overworked and underpaid, these brave men and women are putting themselves at risk in order to keep our society functioning. Many of them have been infected while carrying out their daily duties. To all first responders and their families, we thank you.
It seems like just yesterday, when as a senior medical student in the ’80s, a new virus captured the world’s fear. We didn’t understand how it was spread and how it attacked people’s immune systems. We now know this virus as HIV/AIDS. As medical school students, and then as residents, we were on the front line, and knew it was our duty and responsibility to take care of those with this scary new illness. And though no vaccine has yet been developed, thanks to innovation, we have medicines that allow many HIV/AIDS patients to live near normal full lives.
To this end, I also want to thank and salute the scientists, researchers and innovators who have already – in record time –come up with new testing, and discovered or tested antivirals, and who are attempting to come up with a new vaccine in record time as well. This will matter for generations to come.
God bless our healers. There is a special reward in heaven for them all!