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Dr. Bryan Johnston, a family physician working on the North Side of Milwaukee, returns after two months to offer his candid thoughts about the current stage of the COVID-19 pandemic and what he wants his community to know.
The curve is flattening into a plateau.
Thanks to you all, we’ve “flattened the curve.”
Milwaukee’s healthcare system was not overwhelmed by the first wave of COVID-19, like those in Italy, Wuhan or New York City. We have not had to make those horrible decisions about who gets the ventilator and who doesn’t. We have been able to give every sick patient the intensive care they need. This is due directly to your diligence in keeping your families and communities safe.
But we are not yet in the clear. The infection count continues to rise in the city and state. Part of this is due to an increase in testing access, but it is also clear that the infection continues to spread. We are not seeing the sharp decline in infection rate that was seen in Wuhan, South Korea and other places. It is looking like COVID-19 will be part of our reality for the foreseeable future —a reality that has become all the more likely given the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Gov. Tony Evers’ “Safer at Home” order.
I want you to prepare yourself for the reality that things are not going back to normal any time soon.
I want you to set some health goals
As we shift our gaze from the short to the long term, I want you to think about not only maintaining your health but improving it.
Everyone’s situation is different, and I know that stress and need play out differently for every individual and family. But I believe we can all set some health goals in this time. It can be something small, something big, something old or something new. Try something, see how it goes, make a plan, stick to it or adjust it. Adopting a mindset of health progress and growth is more important than any judgment of success or failure. We have shown that as a community we can survive this pandemic. But we can also (safely) thrive.
Some are trying out new recipes or nutrition approaches, taking daily walks, trying meditation or yoga. Just as health-promoting, others are reconnecting with old friends, hobbies or interests. Myself, I am tending to vegetable seedlings for a few minutes each day, finding comfort in witnessing life renewing in this small way, and looking forward to fresh vegetables soon.
In this time of shared disconnection we all want to connect. Tell someone what your goals are and ask them to support you or hold you accountable. Offer to do the same for them.
The healthcare system is now in a better place to help out
When COVID-19 first arrived in our community, the healthcare system didn’t know what to expect. There was a scramble to prepare for the pandemic and shift resources and procedures for the good of public health. Much as we as individuals are entering a new reality, the healthcare system is designing ways to serve patients safely and effectively.
We clinic-based healthcare providers have transitioned to using more telemedicine—phone or video calls in which we can provide a large part of what we could do in-person, including diagnosing and treating, advising, supporting.
But some things can’t happen over the phone, including labs, imaging, vaccinations, physical exam and procedures. We are trying to avoid a second crisis caused by deferring chronic disease management and disease prevention. We have made significant changes in work flow to make visiting healthcare locations as safe as possible for people who need this care, and we are reaching out to our diabetic patients, those needing vaccinations, labs and some procedures, as well as advising coming in for the services if needed. Some systems are restarting non-emergent procedures and surgeries.
If you’re unsure how to proceed, give your provider’s office a call and they’ll advise you. Things are still changing rapidly, but the trend is that healthcare access is resuming.
Be kind to yourself and others.
“You can cut all the flowers, but you cannot keep spring from coming.” -Pablo Neruda
In case you missed it: OPINION: What I want my patients to know about COVID-19 right now