In 2017, I read an article called “I Don’t Know How to Explain to You that You Should Care About Other People.”
I don’t remember the details of the article; the name was enough.
As we enter our third year of a global pandemic, I think about that often.
I don’t know how to explain to you that COVID is real.
I don’t know how to talk to the ex who tells me he thinks it’s not as bad as I’m telling him, that I’m exaggerating. That he thinks the PTSD that most of my friends and I have from the last two years is fake, the product of being “overly sensitive,” of liberal tears.
I don’t know how to explain that your decisions affect others.
That when you don’t get vaccinated, you might personally be fine if you get sick – but you might spread it to someone who’s not.
You might not be fine; you might be pretty sick and end up hospitalized. Your preventable illness might take up the last bed that would otherwise go to a heart attack or a trauma; your preventable illness might cause a death we could have otherwise prevented.
You might stretch the nurse or the tech or the respiratory therapist (RT) that much thinner, so they can’t care for their other patients as well.
You might be the patient that gets their nurses and doctors and techs sick, so there’s one less person to care for us all.
You might be the patient that breaks the camel’s back – so the nurses and techs and RTs leave their jobs and aren’t ever there to care for us again.
I don’t know how to explain to you that our system is failing.
I don’t know how to tell you, with your faith in capitalism and the free market, how badly this system has failed you.
How badly the lack of accessible testing is breaking us.
How thinly stretched the ER is, as we try to care for both the emergencies and for the populations abandoned by their community and government, with no protection or education, with no testing, unable to return to work, unable to afford a test, unable to afford to isolate.
I don’t know how to make you realize that using health care as a safety net for the failings of a social support structure threatens us all.
That the hospitals will care for those with no other options; but that in doing so, we have less ability to care for the medical.
I don’t know how to make you see that community care enables better health for all of us.
I don’t know how to tell you how my colleagues and I feel as we face the third year of feeling like nobody else gives a damn about us.
I don’t know how to make you see how badly health care workers are hurting. We’ve worked for generations on the promise of making a difference, of bettering lives. We’ve sacrificed in the name of benevolence, of passion, of “calling.”
We’ve suffered physical, verbal, emotional abuse. We’ve watched our colleagues get sick and die.
We’ve felt the moral injury, and we’ve watched the suicides of those like us.
We’ve realized any of them could have been us. It could still be us.
I don’t know how to explain to you that you should care.
I think health care workers know, probably better than most, how tired you all are of this pandemic. Nobody feels this more strongly than we do.
But it’s not over.
I don’t know how to explain that your actions now matter.
I don’t know how to make you see that the health care system is crumbling before our eyes.
Health care workers can no longer hold it up on their own. We need everyone else to hold the line.
We need everyone else to recognize their personal responsibility.
We need everyone else to demand free, equitable, public testing.
We need everyone to demand evidence-based policies and decisions that promote public health that prioritize the survival of the health care system.
We need everyone to make decisions that affect our long-term, common survival rather than the financial profit or dopaminergic reward of a moment.
We agreed to stay home for two weeks to flatten the curve two years ago. To protect the hospitals.
Health care has never been more in danger than it is now.
And when health care is in danger, we all are.
I can’t make you care.
But you should.
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