Dear Amy: I’m a doctor. I am on the front lines treating covid patients. I have watched the cycle of fear, sadness and guilt when I tell a patient they have tested positive. Then again, watching the family go through their cycle of denial, anger and sadness as I give them the phone call that their loved one is indeed dying.
I know I’m not the only provider who has experienced this, or the first time you are probably hearing this story.
I am in a long-distance relationship with someone not in medicine. Since the beginning of this pandemic, we knew that because of our jobs, traveling to see one each other would be limited. I have spent hours on the phone with him telling him about scenes at the hospital like they are clips from a war movie. He has grieved with me at the state of our world.
We have a week to see each other over Thanksgiving. He would like to see his family, which I support. But he is adamant that he will not wear a mask during the visit. After seeing so many patients with similar stories of exposure after a family gathering, I feel that I can’t participate.
I’m so disappointed in his choice not to practice public health guidance. I know I shouldn’t, but it’s hard not to take it personally, when he knows what I’ve been going through as a physician.
I know we are all struggling to make decisions on what feels both good and safe when it comes to seeing our families for the holidays. But I cannot help but be heartbroken when the simple measure of wearing a mask seems preposterous?
— Dr. Hope
Dr. Hope: I am also heartbroken in solidarity with you and your fellow first-responders, and with the scores of families for whom the holiday season will not be a time of celebration, but of grieving for their loss.
This is a brief moment in our history. It seems selfish, as well as shortsighted, for people to refuse to take common-sense measures to protect themselves and others.
Given your situation, I can understand why you are taking this personally. I assume that you are tested frequently, but it is a given that your potential exposure also places your friend and his family members at some risk, making his choice seem even more foolhardy. (c) Ask Amy
Wow. That’s awful. I’m not a mask fanatic myself, although I always wear them whenever I enter anyplace. When I pass someone on the sidewalk, I shut my mouth, face away, and hold my breath (all for their benefit).
I probably won’t wear a mask this Thanksgiving, which could be just me and my dad, unless I can get my brother to join us, too. My mom has gone back to Maine, which is great.
But the mask thing, to me, is something that should be important to the letter writer’s boyfriend because it’s important to her. We should honor what’s important to our loved ones. She’s been at the front lines, witnessing all this horrible stuff, and her boyfriend’s too much of a clod to understand where she’s coming from? It makes sense that I myself wouldn’t wear a mask. I’m in denial about the virus. But if I had a boyfriend who was aware of the suffering, I’d freakin’ wear a mask if it would make him feel better.
And he’s adamant about it, the letter writer tells us. One commentor suggested that he’s trying to break up with her, and you have to wonder. But even if he isn’t, I think she should break up with him. Our realities are fluid and impermanent. This is why I never wear a mask unless I’m made to–the suffering of the coronavirus isn’t my reality. But if it were the reality of someone I cared about, I’d respect that and wear a freakin’ mask. It’s not too much to ask.
I have spent hours on the phone with him telling him about scenes at the hospital like they are clips from a war movie.
Yeah… I’m scratching my forehead here. (Literally. It itched.) Is there a chance that he’s tired of going along for the ride? I’m feeling overwhelmed with pathos just from reading her letter. It’s awful to imagine all that suffering. I’m not trying to blame her, because she’s in need of venting. Who wouldn’t be? I’m thinking, though, that she’s been venting to the wrong person.
He has grieved with me at the state of our world.
I can’t pretend to know what it’s like to be a doctor treating coronavirus patients. But to a certain degree, you’ve got to stay positive. I’d wager that the boyfriend is exhausted from all the grieving. I’d urge the letter writer to find a way to process it all that can help her restore her sanity. There’s just got to be a better, brighter way of looking at it. She could focus on the lowering mortality rate, the high chance of survival, the love of the patients’ family members, etc., etc. Again, I’m not trying to criticize her, because I can’t imagine; but I’m sensing that her boyfriend is overwhelmed, and he shouldn’t have it dumped all over him… for hours. Maybe the letter writer could find an online support group or see a counselor for a few sessions. Another option would be for her to journal about the war stories (while changing everyone’s names, of course).