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Reflections of a Backline Worker

By Sister Rosanne Popp, M.D.
Medical Director, CHRISTUS St. Mary’s Clinic

We hear in the news daily about the courage, endurance and dedication of front line health care workers who are battling daily to save patients’ lives during this pandemic. Indeed they are the heroes of the COVID war.

What is it like to be a “backline” healthcare worker? These are the professionals who continue to care for the health of individuals and the community throughout the pandemic. They are not actively fighting the disease, but are nevertheless fighting the effects of the disease on the health of the community.

With that in mind, I would like to invite you to into my clinic – CHRISTUS St. Mary’s Clinic – for a day in the life of a physician who treats those who live in poverty.

Here is what we see on a daily basis with multiple iterations of the following scenarios:

  • Examinations and laboratory results show weight, blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol at worsening levels.  When we talked to patients about the results and their current situations, we often hear “I lost my job, and I have no money for food or medication or housing” or “I can’t follow my diet because I have to eat what I can afford, and I haven’t taken the medication, because I can’t afford to buy it.”
  • Increased anxiety and stress levels from fear of contracting the disease, loneliness and isolation, leading to poor mental health and worse overall health outcomes.  Referrals for mental health counseling have increased greatly.
  • And then there is grief. One patient who lost two family members in one week to the disease. Another lost a family member in her home country and could not say goodbye or grieve with her family. The woman who buried her husband two days ago, the breadwinner and father of her four children aged 12-23.  Amid her sorrow, she was rejoicing that she had found a job so that her family would have continued sustenance. What is the response to all this except to be with them, lend a listening heart and offer a tissue.

As this scene repeats itself multiple times a day, multiple days of the week, it is heart-wrenching and psychologically draining. But at the same time, it is rewarding to know that we, the “backline” healthcare workers can offer a lifeline to our patients and their families. That we are protecting and sustaining their health in this time of crisis. That we are indeed front and center in fight for on-going physical and psychological health during this pandemic.

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