An Opportunity to Educate
By Jacqueline Corona, MD
“Hello, my name is Dr. Jacqueline Corona. Pleasure to meet you. … Yes, that’s right—Corona.”
With every greeting to a newly arrived patient, the pandemic is inescapably conjured into my examination room. When I utter the word Corona through my n95 mask, it brings to the foreground of my patient encounters important questions and thoughts that may have otherwise lay dormant. During the COVID-19 pandemic, clinic visits have rarely been just about orthopedic pathology. Across the globe, the pandemic has come to represent panic, untimely deaths, politics, grief, imposed mandates, tragedy, racial and socioeconomic inequalities, money and job insecurity, global mistrust, and a profound disruption to our way of life. Inevitably, across all of our practices, patients come through our doors carrying some or all of this upon their shoulders. In my practice, it just so happens that my name has opened the floor for important discussion.
To date, the Midwest infection waves and surges have lagged in severity and timing in comparison to other locations nationally and internationally. Accordingly, my patients’ attitudes have varied anywhere from anxious anticipation to dismissive bravado. Data continues to be in flux, as infection and hospitalization rates spike, and wane, and spike anew across the country. The ability to reinforce digestible science-based knowledge and to provide holistic patient care has never been more important. While I am a passionate orthopedic surgeon with a hand and microsurgery subspecialty, I am first and foremost a doctor to patients—to whole people, who come to me with orthopedic concerns, but who also bring with them questions and worries and preconceived ideas about a health crisis impacting us all.
At a very practical level, I work to foresee the needs of my patients and to create time for possible pandemic education and discussion during visits. As a time-saving measure, I pre-print patient handouts and place electronic orders prior to encounters when appropriate. I lead by example, and as I wear appropriate personal protective equipment and wash or sanitize my hands, I request that my patients follow suit. I openly share my reasoning on my approach to the pandemic, in hopes of providing some insight into the challenges that our healthcare system and our country as a whole are up against. I listen intently to their thoughts and perceptions, so that I can respond with specificity, and perhaps effect change or reinforce good habits. I provide words of solace, empathy, caution, and education, as needed by individual patients—which is something that serves several purposes in my practice. Psychosocial support during times of duress can help patients better manage the physical symptoms of their orthopedic pathology.
Corona is my name, but now, with every greeting, it has also become an important tool in my practice. In simpler times, my name would often prompt amused questions and comments about a certain popular ethanol-based beverage. These days, however, it precipitates something far more sobering, and far more valuable: the opportunity to demystify, to depoliticize, and to educate my patients on the most urgent public health crisis in modern history. To be clear, sharing a name with a virulent disease is not a prerequisite to adapting to a rapidly changing medical landscape or to the evolving needs of our patients. I know that each of my colleagues has found their own unique way to meet this moment, and to provide exceptional specialized care while also affording our patients with science-based tools to take with them, as we all confront this shared, daunting crisis.