Aloha to all of Hawaii. I am an emergency medicine physician, currently the president of the Hawaii Chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians. We are the doctors who take care of you in the emergency departments. These are troubling and anxious times, for all of you and for the teams of health-care workers in the hospitals.
We will get through this; we have been through other difficult times. I started my residency only a year before HIV was discovered in 1983. We didn’t know what caused it, where it came from, or how to treat it. There was a lot of uncertainty and fear. Health-care workers were at risk for contracting HIV; we didn’t know how it was transmitted. Some thought being in the same room with a patient could give us the fatal infection. But no one I knew stopped taking care of their patients because of their fear. I was careful to not poke myself with any needles, and I wore a surgical mask.
Today we’re facing COVID-19. It’s also frightening, terrifying for some. I can’t really compare which one was more frightening because I’m older, smarter, more cautious, and hopefully, wiser. Am I afraid of dying from it? Yes, but that fear will help keep me alive. Yet there are no guarantees for me or any health-care worker.
We have now had the first, then more deaths from COVID-19 in Hawaii. I know that most of the deaths are in patients older than me, often with other medical problems, so I know who is at risk. We know that health-care workers in cities where the infection is rampant are overwhelmed, and this is frightening for all of us. And I know that young healthy patients are dying, including young health-care workers.
But I also know that in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tells us that more than 67,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2018. I try to keep numbers like that in my mind to help me get through the day.
This COVID-19 problem gives me a reason to reflect on my career and the careers of all those who work in hospitals, their dedication to our patients, and their willingness to care for those who need help but might give us a fatal infection.
My gratitude extends to those who are supporting our emergency department work, including all clinical staff, as well as administration and all who keep the hospital running: the cafeteria staff, security, and especially those who clean the rooms when we are concerned the room might be contaminated by a virus.
We emergency physicians are also incredibly grateful for the support from community members making masks. We are on the front line. But I don’t feel alone knowing that community members are behind us watching out for us.
We are there to help you, guide you, protect you, shoulder this burden with you, and smile at you. Smiles matter. Look closely — you can see them behind our surgical masks.
Mark Baker, M.D., FACEP, is president of the Hawaii Chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians.