Sharing Optimism with Patients
Optimism is important for us all now more than ever. I recently listened to the first episode of a new podcast by Bill Gates and Rashida Jones called “Ask Big Questions”. They interviewed Dr. Anthony Fauci, asking him if the pandemic would disappear once vaccines were rolled out. He answered, “Yes, if the vaccine was 99% effective and 99% or more of the population received the vaccine. However, if we anticipate 76-80% effectiveness, with only 75% of the population taking the vaccine, the COVID-19 pandemic won’t disappear.” Dr. Fauci’s message was that whatever happens, every individual must fight and not give up, and get vaccinated.
Explore This IssueJanuary 2021
This pandemic has changed my daily interactions with my patients and families far beyond just washing hands more often and wearing appropriate PPE. The new normal for me has required more generous listening to what my patient families have experienced, directly or indirectly, as a result of the pandemic, and what their greatest concerns are.
Being connected and sharing our journey is the antidote for isolation, fear, anxiety, and depression.
As always, I addressed the otolaryngology complaints, did a thorough exam, scheduled surgery when indicated, and empowered patient families through evidenced-based information and education. But so many children ceased receiving critical therapy services this year, including OT, PT, speech, feeding, and ABA, and trach- and ventilator-dependent children have had fewer home nursing and/or durable medical equipment supplies. Many parents and caretakers faced unemployment and/or lost their housing. In Florida, the AARP reported that 157,353 grandparents are responsible for their grandchildren who live with them; of those, in 51,606 (32.8%) households, the parents are not present. I’ve become very concerned about public distrust and opting out of the vaccine once it’s available—I’ve never met so many anti-vaccinating parents as I have during these last seven years working in Florida.
I’ve seen more epistaxis and tinnitus this year compared to the past 20 years. How ironic that in Florida, most parents have a humidifier but never use it—after all, Florida is so humid! Yet, we’re indoors with the air conditioning on 24/7, all year long. As the pandemic forced millions to spend more time indoors, plus fires throughout the West, climate change, and dry air from indoor living, for millions of children already taking daily antihistamine and nasal fluticasone for presumed allergies/stuffy nose—all of this is likely why I’ve seen more children with epistaxis.
There have also been more tinnitus visits, especially in adolescents who all have normal audiograms. Perhaps it’s related to the hours of wearing AirPods and headphones for virtual school, and then socialization with friends and gaming. The pandemic will likely have a negative impact far greater than we realize that may be subtle or invisible now.
My conversations during every office and OR encounter now include asking how patient families have fared with the pandemic, and a natural dialogue immediately follows. Without getting political or making them uncomfortable, discussion of current infection numbers, the most up-to-date scientific progress, and key questions “hot off the press” have become the norm. I ask if a child is going to school virtually, in person, or in some hybrid version. I ask about their birthday and holiday plans, limitations when it comes to sports, and their greatest challenges. Every encounter is a time when I can remind everyone about the benefits of going outside whenever possible and engaging in some physical activities every day. Sharing my reality and vulnerability with them, acknowledging theirs, and connecting more deeply than I was trained to do with patients has given me a sense of optimism in terms of how we can move forward together despite all these challenges.