“Any thoughts?” my father asked me in an email. The subject line read “#Solidarityat8.”
Yes, I have a few thoughts.
As a devoted nonmember of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and a conscientious objector to any internet meme or trend since AOL chat rooms, I learned that #Solidarityat8 is a moment of public silence, cheering or clapping at 8 p.m. each night to “show support for health care workers.” It’s a time when the world, or at least the Twitterverse, honors my colleagues and me with a communal offering of thanks.
I am a health care worker, a transplant surgeon in New York. Those who are about to run into the pandemic without adequate gowns, masks or hand sanitizer do not benefit from a confusing mixture of appreciative noise and not-noise any more than would firefighters about to rush into a fire without gear.
Like many internet movements, the idea is misguided. It is a salve only to those who are already hiding in their dens stocked up for winter. A perfect activity for the internet age, it’s a low-investment, risk-free way to wear the mantle of the moment without owning it. It is noise without action; pontificating about politics without running for office or voting. Consider an example of such empty social media gestures: Of the 17 million people who shared their A.L.S. Ice Bucket Challenge videos, 14.5 million didn’t contribute to the A.L.S. Association or even know there was a cause.
Doctors don’t need any shouting from the windows. We need what’s behind your windows, in your living room, hoarded for an apocalypse that will occur only if we do not have the resources needed to fight this pandemic. If you are isolating yourself, then you do not need an arsenal of defenses. Basic social distancing and hand hygiene are sufficient. Those who don’t have the luxury of isolating, the people you will rely on if you get sick, require that arsenal. Not all of it. But for our good, though really for yours, please contribute your hoarded supplies.
You can’t possibly go through that big bottle of hand sanitizer, but keep it anyway. That second and third bottle, though — please put them to better use. I have not seen a single bottle on my floor at the hospital, and some scavengers have been observed coming to the hospital to fill their home bottles from our supplies. Bring us your extra masks. The critical shortage requires us to use a single mask for multiple patients until it is soiled or broken. You do not need five of them to go for a walk. Many of our own stockpiles have grown legs and walked away.
About those boxes of toilet paper: Do you really need that much? Do you really need to be stealing it from the hospital, as some have been doing? How many years of hand soap do you need in your bathroom? Will you go through that many bags of zinc lozenges while sitting unexposed on your couch? The amount of acetaminophen you have hoarded would be toxic if you took half of it.
I propose setting up a service where people who want to show their appreciation for health care workers can safely provide the medical materials from their own homes. They can donate or be reimbursed (but not at price-gouging costs). You can view this as doing your part. Or you can view it as helping to put the resources where they are needed to prevent the pandemic from spreading (in your interest) or to treat you if you get sick (also in your interest). Please do this instead of yelling out your window tonight. Give it a hashtag if you would like.
Until a public system exists, here are two excellent websites for donating medical equipment to hospitals in the New York area. These websites streamline donations and route supplies directly to the front lines.
Doctors will take care of coronavirus patients no matter what happens. Most of us are not resentful of the burden but instead excited to be useful. As the chair of my hospital’s surgery department wrote so eloquently in one of his daily missives: “Remember that our families, friends and neighbors are scared, idle, out of work and feel impotent. Anyone working in health care still enjoys the rapture of action. It’s a privilege!”
We are happy warriors, even if we become victims to the cause. We do not need to be saluted. To the contrary, the ancient gladiator refrain may be more appropriate: “We who are about to die salute you.” We will fight for you because it is in our blood and it is what we trained to do.
But would you please pass the soap?
Joshua Weiner is a transplant surgeon in New York.
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