One year ago. It is hard to imagine.
I remember a conversation with a colleague who was working on disaster preparedness for an insurance company about 20 years ago. He talked about the potential for a pandemic. This was before SARS and MERS, around the time of 9/11. Despite having recently finished medical school, I had not learned much about the Spanish Flu. I was young, in the midst of taking care of sick children, and still invincible in my mind. Over dinner, he said, “another pandemic like that of 1920 is going to happen; people will get sick, people will die.” I didn’t believe him.
Now, I have had the flu, and I have had the stomach “bug” and other illnesses where I thought I was going to die (really just misery of infection). I survived. Despite what my friend told me that day, I never thought we would have a pandemic such as this. Thousands of Arkansans have died.
Millions of Americans and others around the world have died. As a doctor, I see the pandemic’s impact on children and families from a medical standpoint. I never anticipated the extreme economic hardship, suffering, and psychological impact it has had.
At the very beginning of the pandemic, we didn’t know as much as we know now. We were worried about how the virus was spread, who was most vulnerable, more likely to be hospitalized, more likely to require mechanical ventilation, and who would die. Thanks to scientists and those in public health, we quickly learned. I was terrified of giving the virus to my family. I didn’t know if I could give it to my parents, grandchildren, or my spouse. Or that they could give it to us. We went on serious lockdown for many months and contracted our social circle to just our household and did not see anyone else.
As a physician, I have been amazed by current science and knowledge. Within a few months, we had good data to show how the virus was spread, who was at the highest risk, and how best to fight this virus. We learned what worked and what treatments didn’t. Thanks to technology, vaccines and treatments that were developed, manufactured and deployed within a year of our first case in the States. It is an awesome display of medical science.
During the same time, thousands of years of racism and inequity came to a head. We watched it all unfold on TV and in our communities. Our friends of color have seen the worst part of this pandemic, representing almost half of hospitalizations and death.
Close to my professional home, I saw the impact on my health care colleagues. To say it was a hard year grossly underestimates its impact. Not only did some of them get sick and die, but they still took care of the sick and dying. Many times, they were the only person in the room when that patient died. When we could not do anything, we held a hand.
But, as someone who always wants to find the good in the hard times, I saw a lot of humanity. People checking on their elders, picking up groceries and making sure those who needed help got it. People worked to protect others through masking and distancing and are now getting vaccinated.
If I could take one good memory out of this time, it would be of my block where I live in Little Rock. My neighbors scattered out on lawns to visit, their kids “clustered” so they could play together, we supported each other, and we made sure everyone on our block was “ok” – the best medicine.
I often speak of resilience. Despite the challenges, the trusting and caring relationships we have carry us through. If we come out of this pandemic having not learned anything, then we have failed. We need to be and do better. Better friends and neighbors. A better health care system. A better and changed workforce. A better state and nation.
Editor’s note: Dr. Chad Rodgers is an Arkansas pediatrician and is the Chief Medical Officer for the Arkansas Foundation for Medical Care. The opinions expressed are those of the author. You can hear more from Dr. Rodgers in the video below.