When Things Drag on Too Long

There is no perfect way to measure pain, physical or otherwise. Every person perceives it differently, tolerates it differently. Pain that you have for a day impacts you differently from pain you have for months. It’s no secret that COVID-19 has caused pain for most of us, especially for our healthcare providers, for some time.

Dr. Clarence Shannon recently related an example of something he does in his Pain Management practice that I think offers us a helpful strategy: After getting a patient’s response on the pain management scale, Dr. Shannon then asks what the patient wants to be able to do that pain makes impossible. One patient replied that his goal was to take his grandkids fishing. Months into the treatment, Dr. Shannon again asked the patient about his pain. It was about the same, the patient thought, not better. Why just last week when he was fishing with the grandkids…

It isn’t always easy to see progress when we’re in pain, but it can be measured in things like improved function and goals met. So, although we are still feeling the pain of the pandemic, let’s honor a few of the goals we have achieved together:

  • We followed the safety recommendations, closed down, and prevented a situation where our hospitals were overrun. We never had to decide who gets an ICU bed or a ventilator and who doesn’t.
  • Even more remarkably, we put all our minds and hands together and improved the standard of care for everyone. We have achieved better survival rates and lower infection rates than elsewhere.
  • At the University we launched many clinical trials, increased diagnostic and antibody testing capacity, and managed to keep our non-COVID research programs running through the sheer determination of faculty, staff, and learners.

One of the greatest lessons of the pandemic is that, no matter how brilliant our individual achievements, they pale compared to what we can do when we all work together toward a common objective.

Our next goal is stay the course and remain united. We will get through this, and we will do it best if we share our strengths, are compassionate with our differences, and focus together on our shared mission of improving healthcare, research, and education.

In a sometimes polarized world, let’s decide that we will have an environment of collegiality, courtesy, and respect for differences of opinion, background, and experience. Let’s determine our own future as a place united by our mission of improving the practice of medicine. Let’s take care of ourselves so we can take care of each other. The Office of Faculty Affairs has created a campaign to share the ways we cope. You can record a two-minute video and send it to ms-ofa@umn.edu, or tag your video on Twitter with #UMNMedcares.

Lastly, in the words of the writing duo known as James S.A. Corey: “When the crisis comes, we all pull together naturally. It’s easy then. It’s when things drag on too long that we have to make the effort. We need to make sure everyone sees we’re all in this together."