COVID Patients’ Crackpot Theories Take Toll on Healthcare Workers

December 14, 2020 by Christen Aldrich

Filed under COVID-19 for Employers, COVID-19 for the Workforce, Health and Wellness

Last modified December 22, 2020

According to this piece from MedPage Today, it is not uncommon for healthcare workers to encounter patients who still think COVID-19 is a hoax — even when they have the disease themselves. In addition to numerous other pandemic stressors, clinicians must care for disbelieving patients while they see continued disregard for masks, social distancing, and other recommendations as part of a calculated disinformation campaign. It has all proved too much for some healthcare workers.

Jodi Doering, RN, a nurse in South Dakota, has also cared for patients who deny COVID’s existence. She vented on Twitter: “I can’t help but think of the COVID patients the last few days. The ones that stick out are those who still don’t believe the virus is real. The ones who scream at you for a magic medicine. They tell you there must be another reason they are sick,” she tweeted. “They call you names and ask why you have to wear all that ‘stuff’ because they don’t have COVID because it’s not real. Yes. This really happens.”

Doering told CNN that her venting was due to “a culmination of so many people. Their last dying words are, ‘This can’t be happening; this isn’t real.’ … It just made me really sad.” Doering has since suffered backlash for expressing her sentiments, including death threats.

Psychiatrist Jessica Gold, MD from Washington University in St. Louis has spoken with many similarly frustrated healthcare workers. Some COVID-19 patients have used their last words to argue with Gold’s colleagues about their diagnosis, while others have refused to call family to say goodbye because of their denial. Gold calls this conscious denial because patients choose to refute their condition. “This is a belief system and I don’t know that it’s an informed belief system. I think it’s a preyed-upon belief system,” she said. Compound these experiences with the same stressors that everyone else is dealing with, and Gold sees a perfect storm to worsen depression, anxiety, substance use — and, probably soon, PTSD. Providers are already more likely to suffer from depression, she notes.

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