Beth saw her first dead body of the day just as she was leaving the emergency department. Earlier, she’d admitted a patient with the coronavirus; now she was on her way to an upstairs doctor’s lounge to finish writing her notes. Standing by the elevators, lost in thought, she nearly missed the orange body bag as it was rolled out of the car that had just opened in front of her. She decided to take the next one.
Seconds later, another elevator opened behind her. She turned—out came two more stretchers, two more bodies. While she watched, every elevator in the bay opened its doors, expelling stretcher after stretcher of bodies. “I felt surrounded,” she said. “I’d never seen anything like it. I thought I might throw up.”
An endocrinologist by training, Beth—whose name has been changed for this story—usually sees patients in an office; when she first volunteered to help on the wards, she was nervous. As the pandemic deepened, she’d grown comfortable in her new role, or so she’d thought. She turned to a junior colleague with whom she’d been waiting. “I knew I had to be brave,” she said. “I kept it together for her.” Thinking back now, she recalls not just the orange bags but the young woman’s petrified face.
Even in normal times, health-care workers are at high risk for mental-health problems. Doctors commit suicide at twice the rate of the general population; a quarter of I.C.U. nurses have symptoms of P.T.S.D.; a third of residents show signs of depression; more than ten per cent of graduating medical students report having suicidal thoughts. For several years, Srijan Sen, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan who studies the well-being of physicians, has been following medical residents in China, using an app that asks doctors there questions about their moods. Usually, as the Chinese New Year approaches, their collective mood improves; this year, when the pandemic cancelled celebrations, “we saw a pretty concerning decline in mood and increase in depressive symptoms,” he said.
Read the full article at the New Yorker.