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'We hurt, too' | Mental health will be next battle for COVID-19 front line workers

"There’s anxiety that we feel. There’s depression that we feel..."

ATLANTA — Healthcare workers on the front line are giving so much to save others. 

They are playing double-duty as care-providers and caretakers when patients are not able to have their family with them during their final hours. The weight of the situation can take a toll on the mental health of doctors and nurses. 

"My worst day I literally sat on the back porch, listened to some music and just had to cry out some emotions and then got up and did it again," said infectious disease physician Dr. Matthew J. McCall. 

On that day, Dr. McCall said he saw more severely sick COVID-19 patients than ever before. 

There were "horrible ventilator requirements, horrible medical ailments, multi-system organ failure and it was just rapid-fire, one right after another after another," he said.  

Instead of being able to come home to lean on his family to boost him up, he was alone. When the outbreak happened in Georgia, he made arrangements for his wife and two young children to quarantine with family in Tennessee out of fear he could infect them. 

"You come home after a stressful day and usually you see your wife and kids and family and that kind of picks you up and they’re not there," said McCall.

The COVID-19 invisible war is taking a toll on healthcare workers. Last week an emergency room doctor who treated COVID-19 patients in New York took her life

"There’s anxiety that we feel. There’s depression that we feel there’s this sense of stress and just this high level of stress," said Dr. Edward Espinosa who runs Buckhead Medicine.  

Board Certified psychiatrist, Dr. Dion Metzger said that is to be expected. Recently, she's been seeing an increase of medical professionals at her practice.

"You’re seeing people who are confronted now with this bout of anxiety they’ve never experienced before because we're in a phase of life that we've never been in," said Dr. Metzger. 

Doctor McCall and Doctor Espinosa step into COVID-19 hotspots every day with a desire to save every patient. 

"It’s all you think about. You go home and you’re like, 'Did I do the right thing? Did I provide the right medicine? Did I go the right route?'," Dr. McCall said. "You dream about it at night." 

Studies showed that doctors and nurses in China treating COVID-19 patients reported feeling depression, anxiety, insomnia, and distress. 

"There’s a feeling of maybe some inadequacies," said Dr. Espinosa. "There's not a lot that we can do for patients when they become really sick with this illness." 

To cope, Dr. McCall said he relies on his faith.

"I pray a lot and try to look for comfort from a spiritual standpoint and my other outlet is exercise," said McCall.

Many have referred to our front line workers as heroes, but experts say it creates an unattainable expectation.

"A lot of doctors appreciate the well-wishes but don’t necessarily want to be labeled as a hero because it just makes it seem like we’re invincible," Dr. Metzger said. "And we hurt, too, and we go through our own struggles."


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