Anger – the stage of grief I have apparently landed in today.
As I was perusing social media last night, I came across a post that questioned why pleas for others to stay at home and continue social distancing are often accompanied by anger, name calling and “venom.”
I slept on that question. Then I woke up and, in the middle of listening to a zoom lecture on resiliency in medicine, fired off a profanity-laced tirade in response to a facebook post that suggested our leaders are using Covid-19 as an opportunity to “attack” The Constitution and our individual rights. The commenters unanimously agreed that we are throwing away our rights as a response to irrational fear. The comments attacked leadership and asked why in the world our mayor would extend the stay at home order and then labeled him a “tiny tyrant.”
So after I, myself, became the angry, venomous commenter, I went for a run. Because it was that or wine, and at 10am a run seemed the healthier option. As I ran, I reflected on how I let such an ignorant facebook post, and the comments of ignorant people get so far under my skin. Here is what I concluded.
When science and data are questioned, when the gravity of what we are facing is minimized and when it is insinuated that rational, thoughtful people are using Covid-19 to induce fear and panic in the general public, it undermines all of the insanely difficult and sometimes dangerous work that scientists, researchers, epidemiologists, nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists, pharmacists, EMTs, and countless others are doing. It ignores the growing number of patients in my hospital who are incredibly sick and dismisses those who have already died. It is ignorant, insulting and, on a personal level, incredibly hurtful. With each uninformed comment that Covid-19 is not to be taken seriously, it feels like a dagger has been hurled into my back and the backs of my colleagues.
The second, and more important reason that I get so freaking angry is that the ambivalence toward scientific reasoning and the subsequent undermining of fact based recommendations puts us all at increased risk. The image I keep coming back to is of a man standing on a train track. Moving toward him at increasing speed is a large freight train. It’s getting closer, but the man doesn’t move. I can’t tell if he doesn’t see it or if he doesn’t recognize the dire consequences of remaining on the track. But you see, the man isn’t just one individual. He represents my family, my hospital, my community and beyond. And so if he is hit by the train, the ripple effect will be far-reaching. And so, while I would like to approach the track and have a civil discussion with him about the mass of the train, the velocity at which it is moving, the grade of the tracks, previous studies on train vs pedestrian outcomes and the expected consequences if he doesn’t move, I just don’t have the time. All I can do is yell from afar, “MOVE YOU FUCKING IDIOT!”
In one scenario, he doesn’t heed the warning, ignoring me because he thinks I’m overreacting, plotting to take away his right to walk on a train track, or simply thinks I’m a raging bitch. He is then decimated by the train. But his death isn’t the end of it. It has unthinkable downstream effects.
In the other scenario, he steps off the track just as the engine barrels past him, still oblivious to the fate he just evaded, then looks up and says, “Geez lady, calm down!”
There is no margin for error. Please don’t be the asshole on the train track.