The AAS Ethics Committee held its first annual Artwork and Essay Contest in 2021 – the topic for the essay contest was “What is the most challenging ethical issue, personal or professional, you have encountered in the COVID era?” The winning essay and artwork were selected by the Ethics Committee and will be published in the October issue of the Journal of Surgical Research. But we also want to share many of the powerful entries we received for this contest, so look for more of these essays to post as blog articles between now and the 2022 ASC – thank you to everyone who participated in the contest!
Krista Haines, AAS Committee Chair & JJ Jackman, AAS Executive Director
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As the world was preparing to welcome a new year in just a few days, a deadly virus took over and thousands lost their lives. Corona virus was 1st reported in the December of 2019 and has been claiming lives since. While the impact of the disease on the physical health of the people is devastating and deadly, the impact on the psychological health of the patients as well as that of the healthcare personnel is equally damaging and needs to be addressed.
As a healthcare personnel, one of the major aspects of patient care is being able to provide emotional support. Up until the deadly virus changed the very norms of humanity, compassion and emotional support by means of human touch was a major component of patient care. We have always ensured that a person who is suffering from illness or someone who is nearing death, gets all the compassion and is surrounded by his/her family and friends. We as health care providers have, on multiple occasions, been the friends and family of patients who had no one beside them. We have held the hands of ailing patients and comforted them. We have fulfilled their wishes of having their loved ones with them.
The corona virus pandemic has deprived everyone of the human touch. I, as a doctor, felt that this was the biggest ethical challenge that I faced during the pandemic. I had patients who were on the verge of dying and wanted to be with their family and friends. But, I could not allow that because of the fear of spreading the deadly disease. I could not hold their hands without layers of gloves and PPEs. I had to turn a deaf ear to the multiple pleas and longing to be with family during the last hours.
These were mostly geriatric people who had struggled through their lives and were now at an age where they deserved to rest and spend quality time with their family and friends. They deserved to play around with their grand children and to spend holidays with their children. Instead, they were here battling a deadly unknown disease. They were scared and had so many questions to which I had no answers. They feared that they would never be able to see their family again and that they can never hold their children and grand children. Many never made it out of the hospital and died with just an unfulfilled desire to be with their family. Denying patients their last wishes and allowing them to die in solitude felt cruel and unethical. Yet another unethical situation was that the families of the patients were deprived even of the bodies of the dead patients in many parts of the world. Families were deprived of a proper funeral and patients were deprived of a proper cremation.
Even more unethical was asking patients to fight while not being able to hold them and provide comfort. This pandemic demanded patients to give in more than what was fair and ethical. One and a half year forward, we are still losing so many patients daily and though we have we have implemented alternatives like allowing family to visit with full PPE and video chats, I believe it is still very unethical to deprive a dying person of the basic human touch and comfort.
I believe that we as doctors are not only responsible for the physical well being of our patients but also are the ones who one of the foremost people who comfort them when they receive a bad news. Not being able to do that was the biggest ethical challenge that I faced as a doctor during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Yet another ethical dilemma was on a personal front. I had to stay away from my family like many other frontline workers during the pandemic. My family was equally scared both for their life and for mine. It was difficult for them to allow me to risk my life and be on the frontline of the pandemic. My one year old daughter never understood why her mother was not home for days. It felt that though I was serving my patients and being true to my duty at this trying times, I was not being fair to my daughter and my elderly parents who were scared of losing me every minute. Everyday they heard about the deaths of several medical professional and they feared that they would lose me. It felt unethical to ask them to understand the scenario and let their daughter go out and risk her life. It felt unethical to leave my crying baby and go out to face the pandemic with no certainty for my life.
I saw my colleagues and other medical professionals risk their life everyday. So many of them suffered from the disease and a few lost their lives as well. It was scary and uncertain. But still everyday everyone of the frontline workers showed up to help the world fight this deadly disease. I feel proud to be associated with such a noble profession and I dedicate this essay to all those frontline workers who lost their lives in this fight against COVID-19.