A Doctor Asks: Is Covid Scaring Us Away From Our Humanity?

I wonder though, if in trying to suppress it, are we allowing this virus — which is the antithesis of humanity — to win anyway? To me, the biggest threat of SARS-CoV-2 is not its virulence, it is the way it slowly erodes what it means to be human.

First it took away touch and that delicious proximity of a spontaneous hug. Then it took away social gatherings and shared meals. Now with mandatory masks we even lose the warming delight of a smile shared with a stranger. Crinkling eyes at them when they are about to pass just doesn’t seem right.

In the hospital, this loss is even more glaring. I still remember in May, the catharsis of hugging the nurse who helped me look after a patient who deteriorated unexpectedly. Now we stand apart, in silence, shielded from each other by layers of PPE which also trap in the emotions. Our eyes desperately try to communicate the stress, which is only released when, at the end of a shift, alone, we change out of our scrubs into civilian clothes.

In the patients’ eyes, the isolation is intense. Rules have been put in place to curtail the spread. No visitors are allowed.

The first sick Covid patient I managed in emergency, an older man, refused intensive care when it became clear that his family would not be permitted to stay with him. His son implored the intensive care team to allow him to stay, and for a long time we stood by the rules for the greater good. The panic settled on the patient’s face and didn’t dissipate until his son agreed to take him home.

In nursing homes as well, patients haven’t seen their families for months. If video chats are soulless to us, how must it feel to say goodbye via video link? A young doctor’s voice broke as she described her day to me, going from one sick or dying patient’s room to another with her iPad, digitally connecting the patients to their relatives at home and witnessing over and over the families fall apart with grief.

This is why, despite the risk, I still see my father who is in his 70s and has Parkinson’s disease and heart problems. When the doctor in me advocated for isolation, he told me firmly that if he is to die from Covid, he would rather catch it from me. Ever the Buddhist, he says: “We will all die, it just may be sooner because of the virus.”

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