Bearing Witness to Selflessness, Heroism

Timothy J. Babineau, MD, President and CEO, Lifespan

Having just turned 60, I realize that I have been a doctor for longer than I haven’t.

In my years as a physician, I have experienced the full gamut of emotions. I have felt exhilaration and despair, inspiration and frustration, hope and hopelessness. I have seen miracles in technology, technique and treatments. I have also seen bone-crushing, heartbreaking loss when no treatments exist.

What I do not remember in my lifetime as a physician is feeling all those emotions in a single 24-hour period. Repeated day after day.

In the last several weeks, I have seen more acts of heroism, courage and tenacity — all in the name of healing — than I ever dreamed were possible. The utter selflessness of the caregivers in the face of unprecedented odds is both humbling and awe-inspiring to witness.

And yet, I struggle with the limits to which I can make my voice of heartfelt appreciation heard in thanking everyone who is putting everything on the line for our patients.

It feels as if I am shouting words of encouragement in the middle of an F-5 tornado. I can’t be sure that anyone is hearing me over the roar of the winds of this crisis. I know this at least: The roar of the winds means that some are not. And that I cannot abide.

Nurses and physicians are truly on the front lines of this war. The pride of professional purpose I am witnessing every day takes my breath away. But there are others:

Our infection-prevention teams working tirelessly to ensure our patients and teams remain safe; environmental service workers meticulously cleaning and sterilizing every corner of our hospitals; lab professionals running countless COVID-19 tests around the clock; respiratory therapists attending to the most critically ill patients, both on and off ventilators; supply chain experts working 24/7 to make sure our workers have enough personal protective equipment; dietary workers ensuring we provide meals to our patients and workers; registration folks getting our patients in and screened.

There are information technology professionals ensuring continuous access to our networks as more of our staff work from home; social workers, case managers and other discharge planning staff addressing all of the new challenges associated with ensuring a safe discharge; human resource experts attending to the extraordinary needs of our workers and families; pharmacy experts and technicians managing a myriad of treatment regimens and scientific trials; finance experts managing a perfect storm of COVID-19 related financial challenges; and communications professionals drinking from the fire hydrant of demands.

There are laundry workers cleaning and re-sterilizing the mountain of hospital gowns and linens; transporters getting our patients where they need to be; legal experts navigating the maze of federal and state mandates and regulations; construction workers working 24/7 to turn alternate sites into hospitals in a matter of weeks; and our governor, leaders at the Department of Health and National Guard coordinating and accurately reporting massive amounts of data and logistics.

All these are with us in this battle together, to name just a few. And there are others. So many others. Not only at Lifespan but at Care New England, Chartercare, Landmark Hospital and South County Hospital.

None of us can know when this storm will pass, but we can be sure that it will. Until it does, perhaps we can take inspiration from L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz, the classic story of a young Kansas farm girl who weathered a tornado to discover that life is really about courage, heart and wisdom.

I see these three virtues in abundance in everyone in this state helping us battle through this crisis. At the risk of shouting yet again into the teeth of this storm, thank you all. Thank you. Thank you.

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Enjoy the weekend, everyone!

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