John Colson: A bit of brain bulge in the time of Corona
Hith & Run
My brain hurts, and before you say it, I know for a fact that I am not alone.
Between the daily assaults of the statistical armageddon known as the COVID-19 plague that is rollicking around the world, the mental and emotional rollercoaster of seeing both the best and the worst of human impulses pouring out in response to that plague and the ongoing tragedy of mismanagement that has our federal government locked in a downward spiral, I feel that my brain is approaching that point where it needs to jettison a big chunk of data before it can accept a single new byte.
Here at home, my wife and I have been following the stay-at-home guidelines without too much personal difficulty. And one recent balmy day, we went to a garden party of four at the home of some close friends, a wonderful sojourn punctuated by the buzzing of bees and the mewling of frustrated felines.
Casting my gaze outside our little home-bound bubble, though, I’ve been reading of the tribulations of health care workers around the U.S. and the world; that legion of masked and gowned warriors who have formed the front line of our global defenses against the Novel Coronavirus and its unholy offspring, COVID-19.
In this country’s urban centers, the ravages of the virus have overwhelmed hospitals and prompted a massive uptick in mental health crises among the health warriors, according to national news stories devoted to such things.
Some stories tell of a very specific type of trouble among the paramedics and other mobile health care providers, who valiantly offer comfort to those sickened and dying from the virus and then find themselves suffering, often alone, the guilt, anguish and grief that comes after such encounters.
A New York Times story last weekend highlighted this problem, detailing a growing tide of breakdowns, outbursts and suicides among those who have dedicated their lives to helping others. These legions of EMTs, even as they provide lifelines to strangers, seem to struggle to identify and rectify their own frustrations, fears and frailties, according to these reports.
One doctor in New Jersey related his own fear and self-doubt when he told of the deaths of his parents-in-law, and of his almost disabling concern that he had brought the virus home that killed his loved ones.
Others told of their difficulties in dealing with the grief and remorse that has built up in their psyches, brought on by their work providing end-of-life comfort and support to strangers in hospital settings where the families of the patients are forbidden to visit.
Many such stories ended with the news that our health care warriors are themselves being forced into therapy as a way to deal with all of this angst, pain and grief, though mental health services are woefully lacking in many situations and even sometimes refused because of a sufferer’s misplaced sense of machismo or reluctance to admit needing help.
Here in the Roaring Fork Valley, our health care facilities have not been overwhelmed along the lines of hospitals in New York City, New Orleans, Chicago and other big cities, though I imagine our own front-line doctors, nurses and other health care workers are feeling the pressure and the pain in their own localized way. I salute them, I hope they find ways to cope, and I thank them for their devotion.
As a news story revealed last week, our hospitals may not be staggering under an unmanageable case load, but they are reeling from financial difficulties linked to the viral pandemic.
Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs has confirmed layoffs of about 10% of its workforce, and pay cuts of about 10% among its administrators, as a way to stem the tide of red ink on its balance sheets.
Some of that is due to decreased income as patient numbers have dropped dramatically, according to a hospital spokeswoman, but much of it stems from another cause — people who have lost their jobs but still fall ill, from whatever source, and must turn to Medicaid, which generally means the hospital gets less in payment for services than it would from private insurers.
Aspen Valley Hospital is a little better off, according to the news story, but nonetheless has instituted a virtual hiring freeze and may ultimately need to resort to more draconian fiscal-austerity measures if things get any worse.
All of this, of course, is just one guy’s look at “the best of human impulses” in the face of the pandemic.
As for examining “the worst” of humanity’s response to this crisis, I think I’ll leave that for another day.
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A faithful reader, known to his internet friends as “Ski Bum,” sent me the following quote after my last column. It seems fitting this week.