The global pandemic finds us in a world-wide whirlwind of the factual and fear-driven and sometimes politically motivated information. We don’t know who or what to believe which exacerbates the already deleterious effects of COVID-19. Those who are reading this piece may be on the frontlines of care or service. They may be homeschooling their children, while working from home, attempting to juggle multiple responsibilities. They may be ill themselves or caring for an infected family member. They may be grieving the death of loved ones or praying for the recovery of those who are hospitalized. They may have lost businesses or are struggling to keep them afloat. They may be isolated physically as they live alone. Their pre-existing mental health or addiction issues may be exacerbated. I know people in every one of those categories. What intensifies the situation for most, is that there is no date certain when life will return to some semblance of normalcy as we create what I call a ‘now normal.’
In the past two months, plus…that I have been in quarantine, Dr. Harris Cohen has been my go-to guy for data-driven, researched, non-sensationalized, or fear-inducing reports from what he calls ‘the trenches’. He adds his own sense of humor that provides comfort in the face of what could lead to despair, regardless of your health status, living accommodations, financial, or job situation.
A bit of background about you and your medical practice.
I am a partner in an independent Family Practice. We have four doctors, two PAs, (Physician Assistants), and one NP (Nurse Practitioner). I have been in the community for over 50 years, serving all ages and medical issues. I have been a physician for 17 years. I went to the University of Pennsylvania undergrad, Jefferson Medical College for medical school, and did my Family Medicine at Abington Memorial Hospital, serving as chief resident in my final year.
How has your life changed since the quarantine, going on 10 weeks at this point for many?
The biggest change has been in my professional life. What was once a robust physical practice, pivoted to 100% telemedicine overnight. Adapting to telemedicine, while trying to keep the practice financially viable has been a delicate and time-consuming battle. Patients are adapting to this normal, and are grateful for our care, but we are all looking forward to returning to the office when safe for patients and staff.
Please talk about your blogs and Facebook Lives. What do you see as their purpose?
These evolved very organically. I am not a social media person but felt the need to reach out on a frustrating Saturday morning from my office regarding the lack of testing resources for my patients. Realizing that this was a frustration felt by medical and non-medical colleagues, I sat down the next morning to compose a Q&A about the pandemic. I have always enjoyed writing, but never really developed or focused on this due to a busy career as a physician. This post gained significant traction and was shared over 1600 times. I then started a daily post/update, which has morphed into a twice-weekly blog. After reading these blogs, some nurses in my office mentioned that I should do a “Facebook Live” – I didn’t really know what this was. With a little research, I “went Live” one night, and received a lot of positive feedback. This is now a weekly event at 8 PM on Tuesday nights. I like to look at this as a way to share accurate, scientifically driven information in a relaxed setting. Interjecting humor and calm in a time of fear and hysteria has been my goal and use these blogs and lives as my vehicle for this.
What have you noticed as the psychological ramifications of the virus and quarantine at the moment and into the future?
The initial psychological ramifications are obvious. People not seeking medical care for physical and mental health due to fear of going to the ER or the hospital. Mental health issues manifesting as physical illness. Exacerbation of underlying anxiety and depression, and many new cases of situational anxiety. I am worried about the delay in the presentation of mental health issues 3-6 months down the line. As a Family Physician, I am prepared for this probable surge in mental health needs, and I hope my psychology and psychiatry colleagues are as well. Mental health care has always been obstacle-laden from my experience, and I worry about this worsening as the country starts to reopen.
Do you have suggestions for ways people can address the stressors they are experiencing?
Absolutely. Communicate with friends and family. You are not alone – harness technology – call/text, Facetime, Zoom, Skype. Get outside. The weather is steadily improving. Go for a walk to clear your head. Exercise at home – plenty of online options to guide you. Exercise releases positive endorphins to battle the overwhelming negativity.
How do you manage your own stressors?
For me, I have been focusing on the things I enjoy. Family time and family meals have been great. The hustle and bustle of everyday life have lessened. I am reading three books at one time. I am playing more guitar and listening to more music. Plus, I continue to exercise. While not at the gym, I am keeping my exercise schedule through online training, bike rides, and outdoor runs. I am running with my daughter, which is new, and wonderful! In addition, writing and going Live on Facebook has also been therapeutic, as I feel it is making a difference for many people. This is cathartic for me as well.
Any thoughts about immune system boosting?
Yes. Exercise, exercise, exercise. Get outside. Eat a balanced diet as best as you can. No need for supplements unless you were taking them already. There is limited data that Zinc, and Vitamin D may be helpful, but discuss with your healthcare provider before starting to see if this is right for you.
One of the challenges people face is the myriad conspiracy theories and various pieces of information, such as ‘wear a mask’ or ‘masks give a false sense of security,’ vaccine or herd immunity, minimizing the seriousness of the virus. How would you address that?
Feel free to quote from my blog this morning – actually both of these were covered!
Is there anything else you want to share?
This will not last forever. Be kind, be aware, and be smart. We are all in this together. Let’s win through unity, and not division. Focus on the good – there is plenty of it around.
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Photo Credit: Jamie Cohen