Dear Readers, we are honored to share this piece with you. I reached out to Ann Dominguez, who has written several pieces for The Well over the years, and asked what was on her mind as a doctor these days. She responded with this candid reflection. We invite you to read it with the careful attention you would offer to a dear friend. — Andrea Bridges, editor
I have a proposal: let’s stop giving hospital beds to adults who chose not to receive coronavirus vaccinations.
We can still provide emergency care, but if a person comes into the ER with Covid, meets the criteria for hospitalization but has chosen not to receive the vaccine, let’s take them seriously and accept their choice. They have ceded their right to hospital beds that will require a sacrifice from the health care workers caring for them and the vaccinated individual denied the bed that they are filling. They can go home with self-administered medications, and an ICU bed will remain available for someone with heart failure or a life-threatening accident.
“You can’t be serious,” my husband said, when I told him my idea. “You are really tired.”
I was serious. I still am. And, yes, I am exhausted.
I am a family physician, and I am really tired of this pandemic. I am tired of grieving the deaths of my patients and their families. I am tired of patients declining Covid-19 vaccines, which are conveniently available to every patient over the age of 12 who comes into my office (and soon to every patient over the age of 5). I am tired of spending hours searching for appointments for monoclonal antibody infusions for people who refused the vaccine I have been offering them monthly since March. I am tired of saying, “We don’t know,” to patients with long Covid who ask me when they will be able to walk up a flight of stairs again. I am tired of texts asking me what I think about the latest vaccine conspiracy theory (but never to ask about the more than 2000 daily deaths from Covid-19). On my way home from work, I hear on the radio that Covid-19 is a hoax. I go to church and wonder if again today I will be accused of lying about Covid-19 deaths to get rich. I read that White evangelical Christians are the least likely demographic group to be vaccinated against Covid-19.
Christian health care workers go into medicine because we want to alleviate suffering. I describe my own career as a calling from God. I am now witness to more human suffering than I’ve seen in twenty-five years in medicine, and much of it is completely unnecessary. Coronavirus vaccinations have been widely available in this country to all adults regardless of preexisting conditions, insurance status, or employment, since the end of March. Given that it takes roughly two weeks from the second dose of an mRNA vaccine (or six weeks from a single dose vaccination) to achieve full immunity, more than 90,000 of the Covid-19 deaths between June and September of this year could have been prevented by vaccination.
Health care workers of all stripes are stretched to their breaking points. When we talk about “bed shortages,” we are really talking about a shortage of trained professionals to care for the suffering people in those beds. For eighteen months, my colleagues have been working extended shifts caring for critically ill patients without enough resources or support. Health care workers are leaving the profession in droves. Rural hospitals are desperate to recruit staff and are paying them with money they don’t have. We will not know the full toll this pandemic is taking on those workers and their families for years, but our health care system is breaking.
The calls to love your neighbor as yourself seem to apply directly here. The Bible is clear on our responsibility to one another: “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of each other.” And, “If one member suffers, all suffer together.”
The cries of “my body, my choice” and “personal freedom” are the antithesis of the care that Paul exhorts us to show for one another. All around me, health care workers are spread too thin to care for their own children. Grandparents can’t get lifesaving treatment for heart attacks and cancer because hospitals are full of preventable Covid-19. Classroom teachers are assaulted by parents who don’t want their children to wear masks at school. Children are filling up pediatric ICUs because they are too young to receive the vaccine. Without enough staff to care for patients, health care workers in Alaska and other states have been forced to choose between critically ill patients who need to transfer to other hospitals.
Yes, it may be your choice to be vaccinated or not, but your choice is hurting your brothers and sisters in Christ, as well as your non-Christian neighbor, whom you claim to love and who is judging Jesus by your choice to put your rights above their life. Members of our Christian body are suffering because of the American church’s decision to put personal choice, that widely held “American value,” above the Christian value of communal sacrifice. The American church has chosen being American over being Christian.
I ask Christians to step up and be Christians first, and Americans second. As Paul says in his letter to the Philippians, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.” Right here, in 2021, this exhortation means put your neighbor above yourself and get vaccinated against Covid-19.
Photo by torstensimon on Pixabay.