When I was approached about running for MNAAP chapter president in the spring of 2018, I mentioned that I would be turning 65 years old when my term as president would start and that I planned to retire from my clinical practice at that time, while continuing my administrative Medical Director role at Children’s Minnesota. I was assured that would not present a problem and that my 35 years of pediatric experience would be very useful in my role as president. We obviously didn’t predict what would happen in early 2020, right before my term as president began, including the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and the murder of George Floyd.
The events that followed George Floyd’s murder pushed all of us to reexamine how society, and our own chapter, have treated anyone who is not white/Caucasian. My age at the time of this event and all the work that has been done and continues to be done around becoming anti-racist, did not hinder my ability to be involved in this reexamination of how we all function. Perhaps what I had already lived through over six decades helped me to understand how far we still need to move to make this better.
However, the limitations of being retired throughout the pandemic that started that spring of 2020 and continues to this day have definitely made some of my work more difficult. While I had been alive during the final surges of polio in the late 1950s and have lived through the entire HIV/AIDS epidemic that started while I was in medical school and continues to this day, as well as outbreaks of H1N1 and Measles, none of that prepared me to deal with all the aspects of COVID-19.
On a macro level, all of us in medicine (retired or not) can appreciate the horrific morbidity and mortality of this pandemic, the importance of getting out clear public health messages, and supporting one another in healthcare.
I feel that as your president, even at 66 years old, I have been able to work with other health care and government leaders to help craft important policies affecting our children and schools and get the important messages out about what we can all do to get this pandemic under control.
At the same time, I have been at a definite disadvantage when it comes to knowing about and answering questions about what is happening in the exam rooms with patients and their families. Often before doing an interview with the media, I find myself reaching out to my former colleagues to learn what they are seeing and hearing when they are with patients and their families. Are the vaccine hesitant parents saying something different than what we have been hearing in discussions about routine (not COVID-19) vaccinations for the last decade and thus, is a different approach needed? How many patients with COVID-19 are they currently seeing (daily according to my former clinic colleagues and “too many” from my hospitalist and PICU colleagues)?
I am also at a disadvantage, due to being retired, to truly appreciate the toll that this pandemic is taking on my colleagues with whom I used to work side-by-side. Before our recent board meeting, I was talking with one of our board members who was recovering from COVID-19 and she mentioned that four of her clinic colleagues were also out sick with it, which is obviously having a huge impact on her practice. I hear all the time about the lack of support staff to allow our chapter members to function efficiently and the increased burden this has placed on all of them to do more with less. While no one is blaming the pandemic on causing the burnout many of our colleagues have been dealing with for years, it has clearly exacerbated it.
There are no easy answers to figure out how to get more people vaccinated against COVID-19 and to receive their boosters, or to wear masks and distance ourselves from others, especially outside of our homes – all of which could help to bring the pandemic under control. Nor are there any easy answers how to deal with the emotional toll all of this is taking on our chapter members and everyone in healthcare. There is a teaching in Judaism that says, “It is not your duty to finish the work, but neither are you at liberty to neglect it.” We must all keep working to help solve these problems we face.