COVID-19: Putting the Disruptions in our Lives in Perspective
As an ICU doctor, it’s all about the graph below
My local high school has canceled classes. My daughter’s college will go to virtual classes until at least the first week of April. My place of worship has canceled religious services, and I told my father to skip them as well. I changed my schedule so I can attend a PTO fundraiser…until it was cancelled. We are preparing that our younger children’s school will also close and stay closed for a while.
The NCAA has cancelled March madness. The NBA has suspended its season. Several meetings have been cancelled in my own hospital, and we are working very hard on planning what to do in case a COVID-19 patient shows up. We have set up a tent outside of our ER. It is likely going to get much worse before it gets better.
I really understand why all this is happening, why authorities are canceling large events. It is really important that they do so.
It is a scary time right now. I share that fear, as well. I am a Critical Care physician, and I will be right in the line of fire if patients start showing up to our hospital with COVID-19. We are learning all that we can about the virus and what it does. We are learning best practices on how to adequately take care of these patients. Still, I am also a father and husband and son. I worry about my — or anyone in my family — getting this virus, especially my parents and my wife’s parents.
Still, I really understand why all this is happening, why authorities are canceling large events. It is really important that they do so, and it is because of the graph below:
All of these disruptions in our daily lives are occurring because we are trying — as hard as we can — to stop the virus from propagating. The more we do — by washing our hands (again, and again, and again), by coughing into our elbows, by staying home if we are sick , and limiting large gatherings — the more we can help slow down the progression of the virus. And when we can do that, we can help prevent overwhelming the healthcare system.
Delaying sports and other large gatherings are nothing in the big scheme of things if we can prevent overwhelming the healthcare system.
Protecting the healthcare system from the breaking point is of the utmost importance. If a huge spike of patients show up to the hospital critically ill from COVID-19 — because we as a society have not done what we are supposed to do — hospitals across the country will not be able to handle the load, as the red part of the graph shows. There are only about 1,000,000 hospital beds in the entire country (much less ICU beds). If even only 3 million people need hospitalization, the system will break.
This is not only bad for those with COVID-19. There people who have heart attacks, strokes, other infections, cancer, and the like. They also need the hospital. If the local hospital is overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, then those other patients can’t get the vital care they need as well. This is a major problem.
If, however, we are patient with the disruptions and do all that we can to limit the spread, then hopefully we can contain the outbreak and have a situation characterized by the blue part of the graph.
Yes, even in that blue graph situation, I will likely be very busy as a Critical Care physician. At the same time, I won’t have critically ill patients housed in the hallways, as is the case in other countries around the world. So, we need to be patient. And if these disruptions get worse, our employers, as well as our government, need to support us through these disruptions.
In the big scheme of things, delaying games and fundraisers and events are nothing when compared to protecting the country — especially its most vulnerable population — from the ravages of this disease. And it takes all of us to come together and take the disruptions to our daily life — very likely temporary — into stride. We will all be better, and safer, as a result.