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The people at your table

Joshua Haiar

The attached interview above is from SDPB's daily public-affairs show, In the Moment.

One of my favorite parables describes the difference between heaven and hell. In both places, hungry people sit at tables laden with delicious food. In hell, people suffer and starve because they cannot eat with the long utensils provided. In heaven, people are happy and thrive because they use the utensils to feed each other.

Many cultures and religions have some variation of this story. It illustrates a universal truth: we depend on each other. The current pandemic has starkly illustrated this interdependency, and it does not sit comfortably with our American culture of self-reliance and rugged individualism.

As a physician, I depend on nurses, techs, therapists, and pharmacists. I depend on hospitalists to care for patients too sick to stay home. Hospitalists depend on intensivists to care for the sickest. Doctors depend on nurses providing hands-on care at the bedside, respiratory therapists adjusting ventilators, technicians operating machines which substitute for failing organs. And we all rely on those who sterilize equipment, launder sheets, clean rooms, repair machines, and prepare food.

Two years into the Covid 19 pandemic, those of us who remain in healthcare are tired. We have enough beds, and ventilators, and protective equipment, but the human infrastructure is struggling to keep up.

Unfortunately, we cannot simply hire more people. Becoming a physician requires 11-plus years of higher education. Most care team members have at least two years of specialized schooling which is only the beginning; learning is an ongoing process. Health systems may accelerate some of the administrative hurdles to get more people to the bedside, but we cannot accelerate the time it takes to know what to do there.

The upcoming tsunami of Omicron Covid patients threatens to swamp our health care systems. Not only are more people in need, but their needs are far more intense. In addition to Covid patients, people with other illnesses and victims of accidents still need health care services. As my colleagues and I anticipate the coming surge, we wonder how we will meet it. Who will die that with more support, might have lived?

Like the people in the parable, we need each other. Those who are eligible, please get your Covid shots and boosters. Vaccinated people are less likely to need a hospital bed, and less likely to carry the virus to someone more vulnerable. Get your flu shot. Influenza infections are skyrocketing, too. Wear a high-quality mask in public, to protect yourself and others and avoid spending long periods of time in crowds.

We all depend on each other to stay safe. Like those diners in heaven, please use the available tools and do your part for the person across the table.

Debra Johnson, M.D. is part of The Prairie Doc® team of physicians and currently practices family medicine in Brookings, South Dakota. Follow The Prairie Doc® at www.prairiedoc.org and on Facebook featuring On Call with the Prairie Doc® a medical Q&A show celebrating its twentieth season of truthful, tested, and timely medical information, broadcast on SDPB and streaming live on Facebook most Thursdays at 7 p.m. central.