Robert Seward: 'The challenges facing today's health workers are much more difficult than we had.'

From the beginning of the COVID epidemic, our healthcare workers have been under great stress.

Vaccinations were unavailable and there were shortages of protective gear. It was a scary time for them.

They never flinched. They went to work and saved lives. Like the greatest generation of World War II, they didn't know how the story would end, but they fought on.

I am a retired physician and was recently hospitalized for 2½ weeks in a Portland hospital with a cardiac arrhythmia. I am home recovering, thanks to great care.

I was a patient, and from that perspective, I was able to observe todays healthcare workers in action.

Healthcare workers include, at a minimum, EMTs, paramedics, ER personnel, respiratory therapists, x-ray and lab, housekeeping, infection control, dietary, occupational and physical therapy, pharmacy, physicians, physicians' assistants, nurses, nurses' aides, and physicians, nurses, interns and residents in training.

What makes me a credible observer? I was in patient care for 39 years, including 2 years as an ER physician, 13 years in private practice as a board-certified internist, and 15 years in the VA hospital. I was on hospital quality care committees. I know what high-quality healthcare looks like.

These are my observations:

1. The challenges facing today's health workers are much more difficult than we had. We always had plenty of beds, ICU beds and resources.We could always transfer patients to other hospitals. We didn't have to wear masks or worry about bringing disease home.

2. The stress level in medicine has always been high. Now it is much worse. There is pressure to do more with less. In emergencies, providers must act quickly, but in most situations, you have to take the time to look at all the details. Rushing can cause mistakes, and mistakes can lead to harm or death. That's heavy on the mind.

3. Many feel abandoned and unappreciated by the public and some are leaving medicine.

4. They are especially hurt by people refusing vaccinations. It is incomprehensible to them why people are refusing proven safe treatment that is life-saving for them and their families. Then they watch them die needlessly. That's horrible.

Today's caregivers are excellent, courageous and dedicated. I told them I thought their dedication to keep going and save lives was heroic and reminded me of the greatest generation. I know that statement struck a chord, because almost all paused when they heard that statement and nodded in agreement.

From what I observed, today's healthcare workers are the next greatest generation.

Robert Seward is a retired doctor and Forest Grove resident.

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