Opinion: When her breast cancer diagnosis came, she yearned for human contact. 'So please, mask up,' she writes. 'Do your part so that we will be able to reach the point where we can again get that human bond that makes patients stronger.'
The diagnosis — delivered at a distance of 6 feet in the doctor's office — was a shock. It brought back memories of my work in the Ebola ward. Then as now, an intimate touch was a rare thing.
That was it.Distressed, my mind took me back to West Africa's devastating Ebola outbreak of 2014, resurrecting images I had desperately tried to suppress. In an instant I was in Port Loko, Sierra Leone, where I managed a Partners in Health Ebola Treatment Unit, listening to the agonizing wails of our patients, alone in their beds with no one next to them to provide reassurance or comfort. Back to the sick children, scared and alone, with whom I would spend time, uncomfortably crouched in my Ebola suit, carefully hugging them and singing muffled songs through my masks. Back to the midnight palliative care rounds for the gravely ill, where I would just hold a hand, provide words of encouragement, give pain medication or stay with our sickest patients as they approached the door of the otherworld. Just so they wouldn't be alone.
Karin Huster donning her protective gear in an Ebola ward, where medical teams tried to come up with ways to compensate for the lack of human touch.Anne-Sophie Delfosse for NPRtoggle captionAnne-Sophie Delfosse for NPRAnd my mind took me to Detroit's nursing homes and their vulnerable population, disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. This summer we at Doctors Without Borders provided much needed support. With the outbreak not under control and facilities off limits to all visitors, residents faced an endless, harmful, solitary existence. Grandparents died alone, with good-byes bid over Zoom. Social distancing at all costs became a thing.
I've worked for Doctors Without Borders for six years and had my share of difficult and heartbreaking experiences. I don't work in easy places. I work in war zones and countries with little to no health-care system to speak of. I respond to refugee crises, natural disasters and disease outbreaks. I have gotten used to danger. I've gotten used to falling asleep with worries of being infected with Ebola or being attacked by an armed group.
But what I never have gotten used to — and never accepted — was the loneliness. The loneliness of those crowded Ebola treatment units in West Africa and then again in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2018. The sorrow of families and friends who undoubtedly felt they were abandoning their loved ones. The loneliness of dying alone. The absurdity of dying on Zoom
in an overcrowded New York city hospital – nurses would hold their iPad and people would say their goodbyes.Not even in war do people have to face hardships alone. The contagious nature of COVID-19 and Ebola managed to instill enough fear to make us — in the name of safety — less human. At moments when we needed each other most, vital social connections were brutally banned. In Sierra Leone, our clinical team remedied this by starting what may have been the first supportive care rounds, specifically for those patients who would clearly not recover, ensuring that these individuals always had someone with them at their most fragile moments.
Over time, organizations involved in the care of Ebola patients improved the design of Ebola treatment units so patients could be closer visually – but also physically — to their loved ones. Family visiting areas were installed at a safe distance right across patient rooms, where large plexiglass windows were installed. The CUBE, a self-contained isolation room with transparent walls allows families to be right next to their sick loved ones.
We found a way to do it, and we knew it made a huge difference.So how did we go so wrong that the COVID-19 response of the world's richest country collapsed to the level of not being able to provide to the most basic human need – that of not being alone in moments of sickness?
It didn't have to be this way with COVID-19. With lessons of past outbreaks to guide us, with strong institutional and individual national expertise to lead us, with the experience of countries who fell to COVID-19 before us, we knew what could have been done to protect ourselves, prevent the spread of disease and the overload of our hospitals.
We knew what kind of preparations and precautions it would have taken to give that hug and hold that hand safely. To be together safely.Today I am home in Seattle, halfway around the world from Africa. I now have become the patient, the one anxiously waiting alone on a gurney that will take me to the operating room. I grieve the lack of physical connection. It's not words I need, it's proximity. It's touch. Back to that hug, that holding of the hand. That reassurance of being next to one another. It speaks a thousand words. It goes a million miles.
So please, mask up. Wash hands. Practice safe distancing. Do your part so that we will be able to reach the point where we can again get that human bond that makes patients stronger and able to weather the storms.Do your part so we can finally get back to normal. It is long overdue.
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lady i do not see any chains wrapped around your as= you want people in your life walk up to someone say hello my name is ...... what is your do you like to eat dance surf scuba dive movies MaskUp Same here Aug 4th told I have colorectal cancer. Stage 3. About to finish radiation/chemo. I look up the staff online cause I want to know what they look like. I’m scared. Anxiety offthe charts, but I count my blessings and pray, I have a 9 yr old son. Staying positive is the way
Dear Karen Huster, I hope you get this. I’ve been alone for 7 1/2- 8 1/2 months, in isolation. I spent 7 months almost entirely alone. Then, I got a huge hug, from my helper, who returned back. Last week, I got my 1st bath in over 7 months. I’m so weak, I can’t do it on my own.🤦🏻♀️ eternal life Jesus spend 1000 yrs with people perfect health hit re set you are sitting on a gold mine with no taxes
Might want to get a flu shot. Truth by evidence is worth following. The truth without decent evidence probably not so much. Even if the truth without evidence comes from people you trust.. horrible
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