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We Are More Than the Sum of Our Fears: Revisited

Photo by Joseph Rey Au

We Are More Than the Sum of Our Fears: Revisited
By Hope Cottrill, MD

We can finally breathe a sigh of relief:  2020 is over!  Healthcare providers don’t struggle for PPE, Kentucky’s positivity is declining, and vaccinations are becoming more and more available.  Remember when waiting for a COVID-19 test took days? 

However, these positive steps are bittersweet.  As I write this, we have lost almost 6,000 Kentuckians and 2.75 million people worldwide to COVID-19.   Further, 2020 was a year of reckoning for society and medicine.  The challenges faced in society are being reflected with increasing attention in all aspects of medicine:  access to care, patients choosing not to obtain care when it is available, inherent bias and prejudice, and leadership on the local and national level. 

Recognizing science over politics, restoring trust in the medical field, recognizing inherent bias and how this permeates all aspects of society including medicine, striving for inclusivity and equality in medicine and patient care, finding resources where there are significant limitations:  there are so many challenges before us, but every reason to be optimistic!  I believe recognition of a problem must occur before one is to pursue a solution.  One also must understand that solutions to these complex issues represent a continued effort – not a short term fix.  Some problems, such as prejudice and bias, are not ever going to be “fixed” but will require persistent reevaluation and ongoing diligence.

I have been very fortunate.  No one in my immediate family was diagnosed with COVID-19.  The four eligible adults in our household all participated in the J&J vaccination trial.  My daughter is back to college where she diligently masks and undergoes random testing.  My son is a different story.  While parents statewide were rejoicing that their children were returning to in-person school, my 17 year-old son declined.  He voiced concerns about non-compliance with masking at high-school, enjoyment of non-traditional education, short remainder of the school year, and not being vaccinated as reasons to continue on-line learning.  He resumed his involvement with the tennis team since it’s outdoor, no close contact, and he can mask as he feels comfortable.  What grounds do I have to argue?  He will legally be an adult next year.

As we care for our patients, family and friends, we need to care for ourselves.  Those of us who are beginning to see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel need come to terms with our own anxieties reflected in society and our patients.  We need to build trust by example, guide with kindness and knowledge, have charity in our hearts, and encourage equality and inclusion in all aspects of our lives.  Perhaps then, we can both physically and mentally heal from this pandemic.