Think of your favorite doctor. Or the kindest nurse you’ve ever known. Did you think of a person in your home town? Someone who has taken you through the highs and lows of life – celebrated the births of your children, mourned the passing of loved ones, always at your side? When you think of all of the doctors and nurses world-wide asking people to wear masks and socially distance, think of these same people who have been there for the most important moments in your life.
The physicians and health care professionals who are asking the community to wear masks and support a mask mandate are not politicians or pundits. They are members of our community. They grew up here. They go to church with you. Their kids go to school with your kids. They have dedicated their lives to serving this community. They have no self-interest; they only want to protect the community that they love.
At the start of the pandemic, there was conflicting information on mask wearing. Truthfully, there was conflicting information on a lot of things. It is a totally new disease, and we were all grasping for information, and processing it as fast as we could. But we have been living in this pandemic for many months now, and we are learning more every day.
One thing that we have definitely learned is that universal mask wearing helps stop the spread of the disease. The mask protects the wearer a little, it protects others even more, and when everyone wears them, they protect us all – a lot. (The University of Kansas conducted an extremely well-done study demonstrating the association between mask mandates and lower COVID cases. You can read it here: https://ipsr.ku.edu/covid19/images/Mask_Mandate_forJoCo.pdf. There are many other studies supporting this association, but a Kansas study sure hits home.)
I have been working in the Emergency Department in a large metropolitan area since March, and have cared for COVID patients every shift. I have not been infected, and many of my colleagues have not, either. Of those that have, a family member often exhibited symptoms first, indicating, as expressed by the CEO of St. Catherine hospital, we are not contracting the virus at the hospital, where universal mask wearing is the norm. The good thing is that this is really simple. In the words of your hospital’s CEO, Andy Flemer, remember the Three W’s: Wear a Mask, Wash Your Hands and Watch your Distance. (“City to consider mask mandate,” The Garden City Telegram, November 5, 2020)
When the pandemic first hit, one of the first things that came to mind was worry for Garden City. My hometown. The place that made me who I am today. I am so thankful for my upbringing in Garden City, where community was paramount, we were taught to help our neighbors, and put others before ourselves.
I have no doubt that my upbringing in this wonderful town is what placed me on the path to be the physician I am today. But as the virus spread, I was so worried that the people and places I grew up with would be ravaged by the disease. Small towns are wonderful places – but the health care resources are scaled to fit, and can easily become overwhelmed. This is the scenario that is currently playing out in Garden City, and many towns across Kansas, and it is heartbreaking.
It is heartbreaking to see neighbors and friends ill with the disease. As a fellow physician, it is heartbreaking to know that the doctors and nurses there do not have the adequate resources to care for the overwhelming numbers they are seeing. When I graduated from medical school, I knew I would be faced with many difficult moments, but I never thought that I would see the day, in the United States, in which health care resources would be totally overwhelmed.
We, doctors and nurses across the country, but especially in small towns, are ready and willing to do the hard work that lies ahead of us. Our profession is a calling, and despite the many years spent in training, hours away from our families, moments deferred and tragedies witnessed, we are here to rise to this challenge.
But we cannot do it alone.
We need the support and action from our communities. We need everyone to have our backs, pull on the brakes, and help us slow the spread of the disease, so that we can do the best job that we know to do. Mandates and regulations aside, it is up to each and every person in this country to pull together in this moment, and rise to the occasion. Put others first. These are the tenants that Garden City and so many other small communities are built on.
We are not politicians. We are not pundits. We are the doctors and nurses who have been with you all along. We are your friends and neighbors, and we love our communities. Please help us now.
Molly (Welch) Thiessen is an emergency room physician in Denver, and a graduate of Garden City High School.