Healthcare providers are experiencing pre-traumatic stress disorder: 'Fear not, for I am with you'

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Healthcare providers are experiencing pre-traumatic stress disorder: ‘Fear not, for I am with you’

March 18, 2020 -

NOTE: Welcome to our second Special Edition Daily Article responding to the coronavirus pandemic.

I will publish an article like this each weekday afternoon as we look at a breaking news story in the context of biblical encouragements to “fear not.”

In these days, it is vital that we fight fear with faith. I hope these Special Editions will be a source of biblical hope for you.

We are familiar with PTSD—post-traumatic stress disorder. Now doctors are dealing with pre-TSD, pre-traumatic stress disorder.

A physician in the San Francisco Bay Area published today a sobering article for the Washington Post about her healthcare colleagues. It is so urgent that I wanted to quote from it at length today.

“I’m not anxious; I’m pre-traumatized.”

Dr. Alison Block writes:

“Trauma is defined as a deeply disturbing experience. With post-traumatic stress disorder, after suffering a trauma, a person experiences intrusive negative thoughts and psychological distress. Doctors and nurses see news from our colleagues in China, South Korea and Italy, letting us know in no uncertain terms what is coming. The result is that we are all feeling the psychological ramifications of the trauma. We just haven’t experienced the trauma yet.”

She continues: “We’re expecting systems overwhelmed with sick patients who will line the hallways of our emergency rooms and hospital wards. We know doctors and nurses will get sick and have to self-quarantine for fourteen days, leaving the healthcare workforce decimated. Physicians unknowingly exposed to the coronavirus will spread the disease to our most vulnerable populations. We will run out of beds and ventilators in intensive care units, and we will have to make harrowing, traumatic decisions about who lives and who dies based on nothing more than utilitarian guesses about remaining ‘life years.'”

This part of her article was especially sobering: “We know that we will get infected, and we hope that we will be fine after fourteen days of quarantine. But we will almost definitely infect our children. And they, in turn, will infect their caregivers—in many cases, our aging parents, because there is nobody else to care for them, because healthcare workers cannot telecommute. And then, in the darkest of nightmares, we imagine becoming directly responsible for the deaths of our own parents or other loved ones.”

She concludes: “As I put my young children to bed tonight and answer their questions about the coronavirus, I tell them it will be fine. But I know it won’t be. I’m not anxious; I’m pre-traumatized. And with good reason. We’re all in for the fight of our lives.”

“The reality of uncertainty and the absence of control”

Rev. Chris Elkins is Brand Director for Denison Forum and one of my dearest friends. He wrote a post this morning that I asked his permission to share with you because it speaks so directly to our theme.

Chris wrote: “The reality of uncertainty and the absence of control are the most distressing things I am experiencing in all of this. There’s no certainty about how this virus will spread or whom it will impact. The economic uncertainty is palpable. As well, I have zero control of the stock market, the hoarding, or people’s compliance to guidelines. I find all of this troubling and deeply distressing.”

However, as Chris notes, “Coronavirus did not create this reality—it just made it clear. To this point, I have mistakenly confused a measure of material success with the myth of certainty. Nothing in this world is certain, no matter the balance in my checking account or the investments in my retirement plan. Control is an illusion. I often cannot even control myself, much less anything outside of me.”

He adds: “The myth of certainty and the illusion of control are the result of the devil’s oldest temptation: being like God. God’s word is all I have that is certain.”

“Fear not, for I am with you”

Like Dr. Block and like Chris, we are all facing an uncertain and frightening future. It’s human nature to fear what we cannot anticipate or control. In days like this, it is vital that we turn to the One who sees what we cannot see and promises his hope for our unknown future.

Our Lord says to his people, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).

Let’s claim his promise for the present: “I am with you.” No matter where you are today, your Lord is with you. He feels what you feel and loves you as you are.

And let’s claim his promise for the future: “I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you.” There is nothing we can experience in the future that our Lord will not help us through.

Thomas Merton testified, “I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

Will you make his faith your decision today?

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