Our front-line workers are on a war front.

Commentary: Our front-line workers are on a war front. PTSD will take its toll next if we don’t offer help.

 

The Broadway actor and “Hamilton” star Miguel Cervantes and wife Kelly with daughter, Adelaide, who died in October. (Family photo)

 

I have a soft spot for doctors, nurses and all hospital workers. Throughout my daughter Adelaide’s too short life, my husband and I spent enough time in hospitals to know folks by name. They were more than a face behind a mask.

Without the medical support at 13 different hospitals in seven different states, not to mention the incredible assistance we received in our own home, we would have lost Adelaide much sooner than we did. She died in October. Maybe it’s because, after standing by in trauma rooms watching my daughter be resuscitated, not to mention having resuscitated her myself several times, I understand what post-traumatic stress disorder feels like.

We now have grown accustomed to using words associated with war to describe this coronavirus pandemic: front line, hero, battle, etc. It is easy to call our front-line workers heroes, and it even makes us feel good to acknowledge them as such. Without our delivery people, without the individuals stocking shelves, without our civil employees, our infrastructure would fall apart.

But there is a huge difference between our enlisted soldiers and our front-line workers: Our soldiers sign up with a general idea of what they are getting themselves into, and they trust that their government will provide them with the best protective gear in the world.

It’s doubtful, though, that anyone working at their local grocery store applied for the job expecting to be risking their life armed only with a price tag sticker gun. Are these people acting heroically by staying on the job? Absolutely, and we are so grateful that they are going to work day after day.

But we must provide more than verbal gratitude to those who are witnessing the worst this virus has to offer — be it from a grocery store counter or an ICU room.

We hear story after story about the nurses and doctors who are sitting with patients as they take their last breath, then moving on to the next room, trying to save the next life without a moment to process the last. Each story reminds me of the medical staff we got to know during Adelaide’s hospital stays.

We listen to these firsthand accounts and thank these medical professionals profusely. We have rightly called them heroes and compared them to soldiers defending our country from this evil viral invader.

If we are going to make these comparisons, though, then we must treat these professionals like the soldiers they are. PTSD is already rearing its ugly face in our hospitals, and we should be getting in front of it.

It was devastating to learn about a New York ER doctor who took her own life — but not surprising. Unless, we take proactive steps, she likely will not be the last. What are our states doing to take care of these valued citizens?

Dr. Anthony Fauci has said he is nearly certain that there will be a second wave of COVID-19 later this year. Barring a scientific breakthrough, we likely will not yet have a vaccine. This means that we will be putting our battered troops right back into battle, potentially without the care that they deserve.

COVID-19 may be new, but battling pandemics is not. We have decades of research about PTSD, and data available from battles with Ebola and other crises, that should be referenced as we prepare for our front-line workers’ care.

As Dr. Shaili Jain wrote in Psychology Today, “There is a dire need for systematic action to combat the mental health burden COVID-19 is placing on front-line health care personnel. For such actions to succeed requires more than lip service, trite words of sympathy and rhetoric, rather a long-term commitment to resources, funds and unequivocal societal support is what is needed.”

So, my question is this: Where, in the plans to reopen each state, is the mental health care for the people we call heroes? If we don’t take care of our medical professionals now, then how can we expect them to perform at the top of their game and save our lives when they are thrown into battle again?

Kelly Cervantes writes the blog “Inchstones” about life with her medically complex daughter, who died in October, and her mental health and grieving process in the aftermath.