This is part of our series, Flattened By the Curve, which features the voices of doctors, nurses, healthcare workers, and others on the front lines against COVID-19. For information on how to submit, click here.
I can’t sleep.
I’ve seen too much in these past weeks. A whole family intubated, forced into unconsciousness with drips and potions so we could run plastic into their throats, veins, bladders, hearts. A 28-year-old woman, pregnant with twins, who died in the ambulance bay as COVID blossomed and blotted out her lungs. There were tears, but we dare not touch our faces. I’ve heard shrieks echo across the receiver when I inform families their loved one is dead or dying, but no, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, no, you cannot see them one last time. Wails bleed into my ear. I wipe the phone with bleach and move on to the next patient.
I can’t sleep.
Now, a new terror robs me of rest. Amidst fear for my loved ones, our society, and my health — I fear for my job. I am a medical resident trying desperately to keep COVID-19 patients alive. I was called to meet with hospital administration for speaking to media outlets about the unsafe shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). I was warned I risk dismissal if I speak to reporters again.
I am one of many. While fighting to save lives, healthcare workers across the United States are facing career-threatening retaliation for speaking out about insufficient protection and hazardous working conditions. Resident physicians face particular vulnerability to silencing efforts. The reality is, these hospitals can do whatever they want to us.
I am told I acted inappropriately. I am told that our professional world is small and reliant on word-of-mouth. They don’t have to make explicit threats: I know all it takes is a chat with a buddy or a couple lines of red ink. They are the gatekeepers of my career, and my tongue is a liability better lopped off.
I was not trying to fear monger or stand in the spotlight. I spoke to express my own terror, care, and concern for my patients. I watch them struggle for air and die with no one’s hand to hold. I spoke up for my colleagues, who hasten across the hospital without proper armor and or my parents, whom I would not be able to hug good-bye if they — or I — were to fall ill, a plane ride away.