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Pandemic Lessons

By John M. Erickson, MD

It is difficult to comprehend the vast amount of human suffering caused by SARS-CoV-2. As I type these words, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused illness in almost 2 million Americans and over 100,000 deaths. Over 40 million people in the United States have now applied for unemployment benefits due to the economic fallout of the disease. 

The World Health Organization classified this disease as a pandemic on March 11, 2020. The subsequent days were the most unsettling to me. At that time, there were very few documented COVID-19 cases in our state. However, the virus was spreading rapidly in the United States, and it became obvious that our community would be significantly affected. There were many uncertainties and unanswered questions: How do we protect ourselves and our families from a highly-communicable virus? How do we safely take care of our patients? How do we protect our office staff and employees? How do we maintain the financial solvency of our orthopedic practice? As all elective surgeries were cancelled and most in-office patient visits were postponed indefinitely, I had more free time to think about these questions. Additionally, I read more about viral epidemiology in March 2020 than I ever did in medical school! While the pandemic is far from over, many of us are now more comfortable with the “new normal” of social distancing, wearing face masks, and taking extra hygiene precautions to reduce the risks to ourselves and others. 

This time has also allowed me a chance to reflect on what matters in life. Thankfully, I still have my health, my family, and my friends. Elective surgeries in our area are now permitted, and I am more appreciative of my ability to help patients with orthopedic problems.

I am grateful to all the people who are putting their lives at risk to allow me to live safely. Physicians, nurses, and healthcare workers in COVID-19 outbreak areas have shown tremendous dedication to their patients. They have worked many exhausting hours for the benefit of others, often without adequate personal protective equipment. Their sacrifices should be applauded by our society. They should be thanked for their service. We owe it to them and to those who have died to ensure that our nation is better prepared for future pandemics. I suspect that medicine in this country will look a lot different as a result of this crisis, and hopefully our medical system will prioritize population health and disease prevention.

Additionally, I am grateful for the people who allow our society to function while many of us are social distancing from home. These are the essential “frontline workers” who are more vulnerable during a pandemic. They include food service workers, grocery store cashiers, package delivery drivers, and first responders. They should also be thanked for their service.

There is still much more we need to learn about SARS-CoV-2, and I am grateful that many intelligent people are working hard to seek effective treatments and vaccines.

John M. Erickson, MD
Raleigh, NC

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