When Maura Sammon leaves work, no one is outside banging pots and pans, celebrating her and colleagues at Temple University Hospital as they fight to save the lives of coronavirus patients.
At first, when she was working 16-hour days, seven days a week, people acted like she was a hero. But now, Philadelphia sidewalks are empty of color, the chalk messages of cheer and encouragement for her colleagues long gone. When she goes to the grocery store, no one tells first responders like her to skip the line. People no longer come up to thank her when they see her wearing scrubs.
And that’s fine. She doesn’t want the hero worship. At the same time, she and her exhausted colleagues are not getting what they need from the public.
After she and her coworkers leave the hospital, they confront an infuriating alternative reality, where people go forward with large Thanksgiving gatherings, complain about not being able to dine indoors, and ignore basic safety measures, like wearing a mask and maintaining social distance.
Doctors and nurses have become so frustrated and alarmed by people not recognizing the virus is real and deadly that some said it takes all their energy to restrain themselves from yelling out loud at their partying neighbors.
Inside the hospital, they described the enduring trauma of treating patients during the pandemic. As they gear up to battle what could be the most threatening surge of cases yet, they are tired from treating the critically ill, from worrying about bringing the virus home to their spouse or children, and from the ripple effects the pandemic is having on the rest of everyday life.
“Our families are suffering horribly and disproportionately,” Sammon said. “Of course I am feeling burned out, but I don’t have the time to be burned out.”
‘Screaming into the abyss’
Although we know more about the virus now, and results of recent vaccine studies look hopeful, the Philadelphia-area physicians and nurses who spoke to The Inquirer said they worry about what they are seeing now.
They said they see rampant community spread infecting health-care workers outside the hospital. If health-care workers get sick this time around, some said they worry there won’t be enough backup resources. During springtime surges on the East Coast, health-care workers from other areas flew in to help. But now, the entire country is a hot spot.