by Comprehensive Staff

03/19/2020 6:15 pm

A doctor's advice: Tips on staying healthy and sane during the coronavirus outbreak

    by: Lex Talamo, Yakima Herald-Republic

       A week ago, there were enough supplies to go around.

        Then the coronavirus hit. With more than 1,000 cases confirmed statewide, people are hoarding toilet paper and hand sanitizer, stockpiling ice cream and frozen pizzas, and barricading themselves in their buildings.

          But people’s knee-jerk reactions to what they “need” for the next two weeks has a darker side than simple inconvenience for others. Hand sanitizer, gloves and masks have become increasingly difficult to obtain for the health care providers and first responders who really need them.

             Dr. Frank Garner, chief medical officer at Comprehensive Healthcare, has had to help staff and patients develop a sensible approach to dealing with the coronavirus.

              The virus can’t be stopped, health officials say. It can’t be contained. It can only be slowed, with the hope that delaying its spread will allow first responders and hospitals to better provide care for those infected.

                “Epidemics always end,” Garner said. “But we are just at the beginning of this.”

                  But it’s possible to stay healthy and sane, Garner said.

                    “In an epidemic, we must shift our focus from panic to altruism, to remember that we are all in this together,” he said. “We must work to help each other and our patients.”

                      Why are people panicking, and how have you seen that panic play out?

                        Whenever we, as human beings, have to deal with an unknown threat, we become frightened. Fear can lead to an “every-man-for-himself” mentality. This makes conditions worse.

                          The hoarding activities have come about because people don’t know what else to do. With the herd mentality, if you go to a grocery store and see someone else buying extra toilet paper then you buy extra toilet paper, which just makes other people want to buy more toilet paper.

                            Panic also has led to people unnecessarily buying out hand sanitizer, masks and gloves that are needed by medical professionals to take care of people.

                              We are having a difficult time getting toilet paper for some of our residential areas. Hand sanitizer, you can’t find that, and we need that, because we have workers who are out, who don’t have the ability to wash their hands all the time. We tried to plan for this by ordering more masks and gloves, but masks are hard to come by and gloves are being rationed.

                                How do you keep yourself and your staff calm, in the face of a virus that can’t be contained?We started planning two months ago, with the first case in January. We already knew there would be no way to contain it; all we could do was try to slow it down.

                                  To stay calm, there are two things you need to do. First, you need to accept that it will happen. Second, I had to tell people that we can, and we will, get through this.

                                    Panic just takes your mind away. So we have to move into compassion. We have to keep our sense of humor and our gratitude. We have plenty of resources in this country.

                                      What facts do you and staff highlight to help put this epidemic in perspective? Most people who contract the disease will recover from it. Many people will not become severely ill. Kids in general tend not to get the disease, unless they have another health problem.

                                        There are also specific procedures that we can follow that are definitely effective, including washing hands often and not touching your eyes, nose or mouth.

                                          We (Comprehensive Healthcare) are an amazing organization of dedicated people. We will manage this problem, just as we have managed many others. We have been very intentional here. We look to see how we can help each other, and we’re looking toward the greater good for our organization and our patients.

                                            How can people stay sane while working remotely or from isolation? It’s very important in a crisis to maintain routines. Personally, my routine includes exercise. Exercise is healthy and helps me cope with stress. Meditation is also very important to me. Right now, I’m working about 12 hour days, but even with the extra workload, I find the time.

                                               You don’t get up and go to work in your jammies. Get up. Take a shower. Have a work space that is a work space.

                                                People who are isolated should try to stay connected with the people they care about. People should not be glued to the TV, to the statistics. Watch movies. Read books. Do activities with your children. Continue your hobbies.

                                                  Social distancing doesn’t mean that we have to stay completely away from each other: Keep in contact by phone. Schedule a time to talk, like you would if you were meeting for coffee.

                                                    I have the phone numbers of the elderly in my neighborhood. I call to check in and ask if there is anything I can do. That would help me, if I were in isolation, as well as them.

                                                      Any other words of advice? Be thoughtful about what you really need. Try to go to the stores when you can go through more slowly and not get caught up in that herd mentality.

                                                        Maintain a sense of compassion. Maintaining that sense of caring is more important than collapsing into ourselves. We are in this together. That is the American spirit.