Originally published 16 May 20
Here is an excerpt:
These gestures can be as simple as sitting in a veteran's room for an extra five minutes to listen to World War II stories. Or listening with a young cancer patient to a song by our shared favorite band. Or clutching a sick patient's shoulder and reassuring him that he will see his three daughters again.
These gestures acknowledge a patient's humanity. It gives them some semblance of normalcy in an otherwise difficult period in their lives. Selfishly, that human connection also helps us — the doctors, nurses and other health care providers — deal with the often frustrating nature of our stressful jobs.
Since the start of the pandemic, our bedside interactions have had to be radically different. Against our instincts, and in order to protect our patients and colleagues, we tend to spend only the necessary amount of time in our patients' rooms. And once inside, we try to keep some distance. I have stopped holding my patients' hands. I now try to minimize small talk. No more whimsical conversational detours.
Our interactions now are more direct and short. I have, more than once, felt guilty for how quickly I've left a patient's room. This guilt is worsened, knowing that patients in hospitals don't have family and friends with them now either. Doctors are supposed to be there for our patients, but it's become harder than ever in recent months.
I understand why these changes are needed. As I move through several hospital floors, I could unwittingly transmit the virus if I'm infected and don't know it. I'm relatively young and healthy, so if I get the disease, I will likely recover. But what about my patients? Some have compromised immune systems. Most are elderly and have more than one high-risk medical condition. I could never forgive myself if I gave one of my patients COVID-19.
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