What every front-line worker needs to do – right now
A pandemic hits and what is the first thing we do? We respond. It’s what we do. As frontline workers, we showed up the next day and the next day and we will keep showing up because it’s the job. It’s what we signed up for. If we’re honest, it’s what we love. The media and our fellow citizens have called us heroes. And it’s nice and encouraging but it doesn’t change anything for us. We would have shown up if they hadn’t and we will show up for the next emergency just like we did before the world came to a grinding halt. As an Emergency physician, it’s hard to really say anything has changed. Even though it has changed drastically. I still show up for my 12-hour shifts and take care of the next person who comes through the door whether it’s COVID-19, a gunshot wound, or more commonly an alcoholic who needs a little detox. What’s changed is the stakes. They’re a little higher these days. We’ve seen friends and colleagues succumb to this virus and it’s hard to not wonder about ourselves. Thus, the reason for this article. How do we as frontline workers prepare for the next crisis? Because even though many of us had no problem showing up for work the next day, we weren’t prepared. And I’m not talking about our hospitals. I’m talking about our personal lives.
I’m on a bunch of Facebook forums for emergency physicians and first responders and hospitals etc. I travel for work as a traveling ER Physician so I have the privilege of meeting lots of healthcare and EMS workers from around the country. One of the most terrifying things I have noticed on these forums lately is the number of questions about what we should be doing with our own families during this time, where to get life insurance, or whether or not we should be going to New York City, working without PPE and on and on. We as frontline workers know how to respond in an emergency. But were we prepared ourselves? So it got me thinking; what are the 5 things that every frontline worker needs to do right now, if they haven’t already, to be prepared for the next crisis? I understand we can’t be prepared for everything, so this list doesn’t include building a bunker under your home (though I do know an ER doc who has). This list is not all-inclusive and you should add or subtract to it as you see fit. The purpose here is to give you a starting point. I really believe that by putting these 5 things into play in your own life, you will be more prepared than most the next time we face a crisis. You will be less stressed. Your family will be protected, and you will be able to serve at your highest potential. So let’s dive in.
1 – Get life insurance
I don’t want to seem morbid starting off with this one, but let’s be very honest right off the bat. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that though we might be considered heroes, we aren’t Superman. We have seen colleagues die. Not just the old but the young and healthy as well. Maybe for the first time, some of us have realized how vulnerable we really are. The decision to obtain life insurance always gets put on the bottom of the to-do list. Getting the roof fixed, paying the mortgage, and taking that vacation are always going to trump getting and paying for a life insurance plan. But if you don’t do anything else do this and do this now. The security of knowing that your family will be financially cared for if something were to happen to you is priceless. I’m not saying you need to go out and buy a million-dollar whole life insurance plan. To be honest, I think term life insurance is the better option. I’m not too worried about what my 20 and 30-year-old children will do if something were to happen to me. But I don’t have 20 and 30-year-old children. I have a 5-year-old and twin 4-year-olds. When I decided to get life insurance it was hard to swallow the monthly payment. But I sat down with my wife, Lynzi, and we figured out what she would need if I were gone, talked to our financial advisor, and secured an insurance plan. And I haven’t thought about it since. Until now. As I take off at DTW and head to wherever I am going to work in ERs with limited resources and very sick patients, I can’t tell you how comforting it is to know that if the very worst happened, they would be financially ok. Planning for the worst is not always pleasant, but the worst is what we see every day. So just do it.
2 – Make an emergency plan for your family
I grew up in a family where my mother was a burn nurse and my father was a fire chief. I remember running drills in our home where we would have to check the door and then climb out the window and meet at the mailbox as if our house was on fire. It seemed a little silly and luckily we never had to use it, but my father had seen too many families with loved ones stuck inside burning homes, not knowing what to do, and he was not going to let that be his family. Having an emergency plan for your family is a critical component of emergency preparation. We build entire committees to build emergency action plans for our fire departments and hospitals and communities but how many of us have one for ourselves? Where will your family meet if you’re separated by a disaster? Who will you quarantine with if you’re exposed as a healthcare worker during the next pandemic? Where will you get supplies and who will be in charge of what? Again, no emergency plan can prepare you for everything, but sit down with your family and discuss the types of things that could happen and what you would do. Then write it down and review it a couple of times a year. Do you live in a flood zone? Does your area deal with a lot of tornados? Is there a volcano in your backyard? Think about these things now so that when the time comes to react and respond you and your family will know what to do. Fema.gov and ready.gov both have templates that you can use to begin this process.
3 – Have two weeks of supplies in your home
FEMA and Homeland security recommend that all households have two weeks of staple supplies in their homes at all times. This may have seemed crazy a few months ago, but I think we can all agree that this recommendation would benefit everyone after watching our neighbors flood Costcos and supermarkets across the country. Whether it be a power outage, a natural disaster, or a pandemic, two weeks of supplies should suffice to give you the time you need to survive while critical infrastructure and emergency response resources are mobilized. Especially if you are the one who will be responding, making sure you and your family are supplied and safe is crucial to being able to then help your fellow neighbors and citizens. There is no “one size fits all” list of the things you should have on hand but there are a lot of great resources out there to guide you in deciding what is important for your family to have stocked. Check out these lists for some good starting points:
4) Your own medical supplies
This is somewhat of an extension from #3 but I give it its own section because as frontline workers and first responders, having our own medical supplies and equipment is different than making sure our families have food and water, and shelter. We will always be the ones who are called to the front lines first, and as we have learned over the last few weeks, we may not always be able to rely on our hospitals, departments, and government to respond as quickly as we need in order to best protect ourselves. Protecting ourselves during a crisis is critically important not only for our loved ones but for our communities. If we fall, everything begins to fall. As a part of your two-week supply from #3 make sure you also have a stock of basic medical equipment and supplies to allow you to do your job for two weeks or so even without support from the outside. This will depend on your role as an emergency responder, but some general guidelines apply. Gloves, face masks, PPE, bandages, and cleaning supplies are critically important. I know some medics and ER docs who could stitch up a head wound and put a chest tube in on the couch in their basement. Feel free to play with what you think would be beneficial to have on hand based on your own expertise but put together a list and take the time to gather and organize the supplies in an area that will be accessible for you. Other things like basic medications such as Motrin and Tylenol, antibiotic ointment, sterile gauze, betadine, and the like should be included. I’ll repeat it again here; you’ll never be able to prepare for everything, but you can’t go wrong taking the time to think about and prepare what you think is most important to you and what you do.
5 – Know you and your family’s limits
I mentioned earlier that I am a travel doc. Because of this, I was asked very early on if I would respond to New York. I’m going to be very honest. It wasn’t something I was willing to do. Maybe if my little ones were older or if I lived in the city, but for me and my wife, those stakes were just too high. When I was asked to staff the field hospital built in Detroit where I live, however, I was more than willing to help out as I felt an obligation to my community. I know some physicians who canceled all of their shifts because they were older and at risk of serious complications if they came in contact with COVID 19. I know people who traveled across states lines and even country borders to help in the hardest-hit areas as well. There is no right or wrong answer, but you have to decide for yourself and for your family what the limits are. We are specialized in emergency response which means we will be asked to do things and go places that others won’t. But the only person looking out for you and your family is you. There is always more to do and more to give. Remember this, and make sure you take some time to sit down with your significant others and families and discuss what your limits are.
You may look at this list and say, “Well this seems pretty straightforward”. And you would be right. It is. But have you completed all 5? I’m sure there are tons of other things that could be added to this list but I think these 5 sets the basis every frontline worker and first responder needs in order to be prepared for the next crisis as best they can. I would love to hear from you though! Add to this list and share resources. Let me know what types of emergency plans you have set up for yourself and your family and what types of supplies you’ve found important for you and yours. Would love to hear from you! And stay safe out there.
Chris Seitz, MD