The Burnout Came Later

By Saba Lodhi, MD | Washington State

I’ve been a critical care physician for 10 years and taking care of patients in COVID-19 pose some very unique challenges that most of us had not dealt with before.

It was not necessarily the severity of the illness; you know most of us are trained to take care of exactly this. We’re trained to take care of critically ill patients. But what fueled the initial anxiety, and trust me, there was anxiety in the beginning, was a few factors. One: there was a lot of uncertainty regarding disease transmission, there was paucity of data, we did not have any good treatment options and, on top of all of that, we were getting these reports of extremely high mortality rates from China and Italy.

The burnout came later, and that was partly driven by the duration of how acutely ill these patients were for long periods of time. But it also came from the other responsibility on a lot of us to make plans regarding allocation of resources and in some cases, execute those plans. That is something that a lot of us have never done before.

You know, we were working twelve hour shifts on days on end, and most of us were not sleeping, in the hours that were left in the day. Most of us were formulating policies and then changing those policies a few weeks later because of how quickly the data was changing, so we were up constantly reading up on the new data that was coming out on the virus.

And the concern now is sustainability. We all went into this with a lot of fervor, a lot of energy, right, but now I look at my ICU team and sometimes see the fatigue setting in. These are wonderful people, but these troops were thrown into the trenches months ago. How long can they keep on doing this, right? How long can they keep on doing what they’ve been doing so well and still do it as well as they’ve been doing it? That is the question. This is certainly unchartered territory for all of us and that is never the most comfortable thing for us.

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