In addition to treating COVID-19 patients in a Birmingham hospital, Gretchen Winter, MD, spent 5 weeks last spring in an NYC ICU—the location viewed as the epicenter of the unimaginable pandemic. Dr. Winter describes those weeks as a time that «broke me, molded me, and, in some ways, put me back together.»
She described the ICU as a place, not of sick patients and stable patients, but one where every patient was sicker than the last. A place where decisions had to be made not based on the patient’s wishes or the dictates of medicine but the scarcity of resources. The donning and doffing PPE dozens of times a day, witnessing so much suffering and death, isolating to avoid contaminating others, and the legitimizing of conspiracy theories all took their toll.
«We are healers at our core and we want to help people. I think our exhaustion was sometimes heightened by a need to advocate for science in a world of misinformation during our dwindling free time,» said Winter, who is an Assistant Professor in Pulmonary, Allergy, & Critical Care Medicine and an Associate Scientist for the Cystic Fibrosis Research Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She served on the journal CHEST® Editorial Board as a Section Editor and has been involved with many CHEST NetWorks since joining CHEST in 2016. As vaccinations begin to roll out across the country, she offers these words of support and care for those who spent the last year in the trenches: «As we take a moment to breathe, we may finally sense the weight we’ve been carrying. Feeling that load and understanding its depth and darkness, we may find ourselves overcome in a different way. Health care workers have been through a significant prolonged trauma this last year, and we will need to take time to heal. It is not a weakness to ask for help,» she adds, «but a strength.» CHEST is grateful to partner with members like Dr. Winter, who are showing us what strength looks like in the darkest times, serving our communities with the highest standards of care and excellence.