Hitting a Nerve

In the Phoenix area, we are in a lull before the coronavirus storm


“There is no sound save the throb of the blowers and the vibration of the hard-driven engines. There is little motion as the gun crews man their guns and the fire-control details stand with heads bent and their hands clapped over their headphones. Somewhere out there are the enemy planes.”

That’s from one of my favorite WW2 histories, “Torpedo Junction,” by Robert J. Casey. He was a reporter stationed on board the cruiser USS Salt Lake City. The entry is from a day in February 1942 when the ship was part of a force that bombarded the Japanese encampment on Wake Island. The excerpt describes the scene later that afternoon, as they awaited a counterattack from Japanese planes.

Dr. Allan M. Block

For some reason that paragraph kept going through my mind this past Sunday afternoon, in the comparatively mundane situation of sitting in the hospital library signing off on my dictations and reviewing test results. I certainly was in no danger of being bombed or strafed, yet ...

Around me, the hospital was preparing for battle. As I rounded, most of the beds were empty and many of the floors above me were shut down and darkened. Waiting rooms were empty. If you hadn’t read the news you’d think there was a sudden lull in the health care world.

But the real truth is that it’s the calm before an anticipated storm. The elective procedures have all been canceled. Nonurgent outpatient tests are on hold. Only the sickest are being admitted, and they’re being sent out as soon as possible. Every bed possible is being kept open for the feared onslaught of coronavirus patients in the coming weeks. Protective equipment, already in short supply, is being stockpiled as it becomes available. Plans have been made to erect triage tents in the parking lots.

I sit in the library and think of this. It’s quiet except for the soft hum of the air conditioning blowers as Phoenix starts to warm up for another summer. The muted purr of the computer’s hard drive as I click away on the keys. On the floors above me the nurses and respiratory techs and doctors go about their daily business of patient care, wondering when the real battle will begin (probably 2-3 weeks from the time of this writing, if not sooner).

These are scary times. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t frightened about what might happen to me, my family, my friends, my coworkers, my patients.

The people working in the hospital above me are in the same boat, all nervous about what’s going to happen. None of them is any more immune to coronavirus than the people they’ll be treating.

But, like the crew of the USS Salt Lake City, they’re ready to do their jobs. Because it’s part of what drove each of us into our own part of this field. Because we care and want to help. And health care doesn’t work unless the whole team does.

I respect them all for it. I always have and always will, and now more than ever.

Good luck.

Dr. Block has a solo neurology practice in Scottsdale, Ariz. He has no relevant disclosures.

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