Commentary

Commentary: Overcome by pandemic fatigue, a physician begs for masks

September 21, 2021 5:00 am
Dr. Katrina Green of Nashville. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Dr. Katrina Green of Nashville at a recent meeting of the Joint Government Operations Committee. (Photo: John Partipilo)

As an emergency physician, I understand pandemic fatigue as much as anybody. I have worked hard since the beginning of the pandemic to treat sick patients with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-Cov2), otherwise known as COVID-19. It has been a very long year and a half, the most emotionally draining time of my entire career as a physician, including the grueling training period during medical residency. Right now I feel that fatigue even more as I care for my husband at home.

Last week, my husband tested positive for COVID-19, the exact thing we have been trying to avoid since the pandemic began. He started having a mild headache on Thursday evening and woke Friday morning with nasal congestion. When he told me his symptoms, I made him get tested right away. He went to our doctor’s office and had a rapid PCR test that came back positive an hour later.

When he told me the news, my heart dropped. I have been worried about bringing COVID home to him for the past year and a half. I didn’t think he would be the one to bring it home to me.

Right now we are both isolating at home. He is sleeping upstairs. We are both wearing masks inside and staying outside on our covered back deck as much as possible. I’ve sanitized all the surfaces in our house several times. All the windows are open to increase air circulation. He checks his temperature and oxygen level a few times a day. Each of us is taking vitamins. And yet I still worry.

I worry because I have treated patients in my emergency department struggling to breathe from the COVID virus. I have also cared for COVID patients with blood clots, kidney failure, dehydration and severe weakness. My colleagues have seen patients with heart attacks, strokes and other serious conditions resulting from inflammation caused by COVID. I know my husband is relatively young and at low risk for these complications, but as his wife, I worry. Will he develop complications? Will he get long COVID? Will I get sick as well? If I get sick, how much extra work will that add to the workload of my colleagues?

What my husband’s COVID diagnosis has done, besides causing more stress in my otherwise stressed physician life, is reinforce the fact that we need to do more to prevent further spread of the virus. We are both fully vaccinated. But the delta variant has caused my husband’s breakthrough infection, as it has in many others. Thankfully, his symptoms are currently mild. We could have easily brushed them off as allergies. Many other vaccinated people experience similarly mild to no symptoms with breakthrough infections. This likely means many people are walking around, socializing and breathing infected air into public places, exposing many others while completely unaware of the danger they pose.

As an emergency physician, I understand pandemic fatigue as well as anyone. And now, my husband is sick and I worry because I have cared for COVID patients with blood clots, kidney failure, dehydration and severe weakness. And I know if I get sick, that adds extra work for my colleagues.

Tennessee has become the hotbed for infections. Over the last week, we have topped the country and the world in cases per capita. We have seen pediatric cases rise and multiple schools close as a result. Hospitals have been consistently overrun with sick COVID patients, most of them unvaccinated. This has put a strain on healthcare workers both physically from a capacity issue but also mentally as we increasingly approach burnout. 

I am frustrated watching our elected officials and public health department continue their hand wringing when it comes to mask mandates, worried more about political blowback than about keeping people safe. I was at the Metro Nashville Department of Health board meeting on September 9th. I watched and listened to the debate amongst the board members. When they passed the decision regarding a mask mandate to Dr. Gill Wright, the department director, I still held out hope he would do the right thing.

 My fellow colleagues and I were absolutely outraged to learn Dr. Wright will not reinstate a mask mandate until the hospitals are overrun with sick covid patients. It is the position of the board that vaccinations are the way out of the pandemic and that we no longer need a mandate since we now have an effective vaccine. 

The problem is only 44 percent of Tennesseans are fully vaccinated. It’s not yet safe to take off our masks. According to the CDC website, Tennessee is at the level of uncontrolled spread where masks are necessary in public, whether or not you are vaccinated. 

Our hospitals are overloaded. Healthcare workers are overworked, drained and tired. We need everyone to do their part. And that means everyone wearing a mask in public when they are indoors or in crowds. Multiple studies have shown that masks work, especially good quality masks. 

In my frustration at seeing unmasked people everywhere, the continued spread of the virus and lack of action from public health leaders, I started a petition to the mayor of Nashville, John Cooper and the Metro Department of Health, pleading with them to reinstate the mask mandate. Thus far, over 800 physicians, healthcare workers, small business owners, educators and constituents have signed. I don’t know how many more it will take for someone to listen.

Please Tennesseans, show your volunteer spirit by masking up in public. If you live or work in the Davidson county area and want to sign our petition, here is the link: https://protectmycare.org/safe-nashville/

I am more than ready for this pandemic to be over. I know you are too. You know what you have to do in order to make that happen. Wear a mask and get vaccinated. Please help us end this pandemic once and for all.

 

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Dr. Katrina Green
Dr. Katrina Green

Dr. Katrina Green is a board certified emergency physician who practices in Nashville and Lawrenceburg. Her degree in medicine is from Wayne State University and she completed a residency in emergency medicine at Indiana University. She lives in East Nashville with her husband and two cats.

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