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Reflecting on COVID: Six doctors look back at pandemic on Doctor’s Day

We asked six doctors to reflect on the personal toll that COVID-19 has taken on them, and to describe the strength they have found caring for patients during the past two years. We asked that they put into words what Doctor’s Day means to them now, and how it feels different. We are sharing their perspectives with you today to shine a light on ALL our physicians across Beacon Health System on a national day of recognition for their dedication to the profession during an extraordinary time to work in health care. 

Matt Koscielski, MD

Matthew Koscielski, MD
Medical Director, Intensive Care Unit 
Memorial Hospital

The recognition that occurs on Doctor’s Day is usually accompanied by some emotions that go back many years. It makes me think about why I chose to be a physician years ago and how my work has  impacted the lives of patients as they fight through their disease. This feeling has been magnified in the last two years during the COVID pandemic, because of my many interactions with patients and their families as they have dealt with a new devastating illness that has brought early death, prolonged illness, physical ailments, and/or mental stress into their lives. This time has tested everyone’s perseverance and dedication to serve our patients. As we see some reprieve from the peak of COVID and its variants, it gives me hope that the severe devastating effects of this virus are behind us.

Doctor’s Day also reminds me of the importance of relationships that are created in this line of work. Besides the physician-patient relationship that we always hear about, the day reminds me of the many other important relationships that exist in our healthcare system. The interactions that take place with other physicians, nurses, administrators, therapists, secretaries, pharmacists, social workers, technicians, dietary personnel, housekeepers, and the list goes on – all doing their job helps create a working environment that provides great care to the patients that entrust their lives to ‘us.’

Algis Baliunas, MD

Algis Baliunas, MD
Emergency Department Medical Director
Community Hospital of Bremen

It started for me with the white coat ceremony. This is a tradition in many medical schools where you put on a white coat, for the first time, to symbolize the transformation from a lay person to a doctor. For me, it symbolized casting aside the memories of all the parties in college and moving onto the serious business of taking care of people. That means putting your patient and their needs before everything else, including family gatherings, holidays, time with friends, sleep and healthy food.

While the pandemic has certainly created new problems, it has also brought to light the stresses that all healthcare workers have always faced. All of us have made personal sacrifices of our time, energy and frequently our own well-being in order to put our patients first. Some of the first Doctor’s Day celebrations in the 1930s included mailing cards to physicians and their families, which to me recognizes the sacrifices that our families have to make when we are not there for holidays, family events or even home for dinner.

It’s easy to become discouraged when you are overwhelmed with patients who have complex needs and you are tired and overworked. Doctor’s Day reminds us, in those situations, to mentally put on your white coat, take great care of your patient in front of you and remember what a noble and respected profession you have chosen.

James Shoemaker Jr., MD

James Shoemaker Jr., MD
Emergency Medicine
Elkhart General Hospital

One of the essential qualities of the clinician is interest in humanity, for the secret of the care of the patient is in caring for the patient.
– Frances Weld Peabody (1881-1927)

As Doctor’s Day approaches, I often reflect on this quote I heard while a medical student at IU. It seems even more fitting as we emerge from the pandemic that has truly stress-tested all facets of the mental toughness and drive of myself and all of my colleagues. What we do matters.

Medicine continues to become much more technical and institutionalized but at its core is the physician that has answered the call to serve others with their gifts of applying knowledge and science with compassion and medicine to truly be impactful in another’s life.

Doctor’s Day is a day to take pause and reflect on our incredible journeys leading to today and refocusing our energies, drive, compassion and humility for the future. What we do as doctors is deeply gratifying whatever the circumstance and I cannot imagine a more satisfying calling.”

Edwin Annan, MD

Edwin Annan, MD
Beacon Medical Group Medical Director
Critical Care Unit, Acute Respiratory Services and Pulmonary Rehabilitation
Elkhart General Hospital

March 2022 officially marked two years since the World Health Organization announced that COVID-19 was a global pandemic. Since then, every experience surrounding COVID has been unique. I believe that every hospital worker, from the executive to the environmentalist, the marketer to the information technologist, the safety coordinator to the biller and coder, the nurse and auxiliary staff to the health care provider, would probably agree that we share a perspective that is unique as well.

We have just been on a high-speed, gut-wrenching, head-twisting roller coaster without restraints, holding on with both hands, by any means feasibly possible. An alternative analogy would be a mad bull ride… You can fill in the rest.

We experienced the surreal realization that COVID was finally on us. We took care of that first person in our cities with severe COVID at our hospitals. We wound and unwound our minds around how to care for those who got too sick to remain at home. We saw those who got sick get even sicker, and then many times, we saw a horror unfold before us that left us in shock, in disbelief, traumatized, numb, but mostly helpless in being unable to do more than hold hands, rub backs, empathize and soothe pain. Those experiences were heart breaking, sometimes even devastating, but we could not let that stop us, because whether we managed to handle the reality or not, whether we felt appreciated or not, we were the last line of defense. We met the need, head-on, not holding back, rising to the care that was necessary, that is our calling, and meeting that need whole-heartedly, even to knowing very well that we could meet the same fate, fall sick and succumb too. We knew health care workers had already fallen this way, and that the same could happen to any of us, at any time. We worried, so much, about our families, our spouses, our children, our parents, and even more, our grandparents, and though we could not bear the idea of being the reason they got sick too, we did our best to keep them safe. Some of us even lost a family member, a close friend, or two. Some of us did get severely ill or fall. Despite this realization, we found the strength to keep the last line of defense intact, and we walked into the next patient room to aggressively do whatever we could that was recommended by our esteemed, established medical societies to keep on our offensive against COVID.

To health care workers, who died for this cause… Rest in peace now. Rest also in the power of the understanding that you fought for the soul of the nation and nothing you did for this cause, was in vain.

We saw society also feel the affliction of COVID. Lock down occurred. Many businesses felt the effects so severely they had to close, and several of those that did not, are still paying for the debt accrued. The fundamental nature of a human being is to be freely social. That in-person social foundation was attacked and had to evolve. Society remained resilient in this regard, progressive and innovative with new ideas online that have further transformed our futuristic outlook and ensured socialization continued. Nonetheless, people were still profoundly affected. People were isolated. Many lost loved ones, leaving empty chairs at dining tables and cold beds at night. Many lost their livelihood. Some were changed forever. Many others died. We moved from not daring being seen in a bank with a mask to now being disciples of the message that masks, social distancing and hand-washing were necessary aspects of controlling a pandemic. It was encouraging to learn that the well-known influenza virus is so susceptible to these measures that we were saved the experience of hospitals filled with insurmountable numbers of sick people with critical COVID and sick people with flu, at the same time; one of the many small blessings, I would remain grateful for.

Being disciples meant we faced tribulations. We often became targets as we were frequently deemed agents purporting myth and mystery, we were occasionally accused of disseminating unfavored propaganda to society and destroying the norm. We understood, sometimes painfully, that society, though powerful to ensuring our survival, can be uncompromising, obstinate and resistant to adjustment. Society would fight back hard for what it believes, for good reason, but occasionally not so much, and could remain resilient even to the cliff’s edge. We learnt, however, not to stop being disciples even after trial by society, but to valiantly respond, caring aggressively to the very end.

So, what have I learned?

I have learned that society may be obstinate, but society, though powerful, is precious and fragile, and must be protected, by all, together, from myth, from mystery, from the unethical, from the unjust, and from the untrue.

I have learned that we, as human beings, regardless of our differences, can work together.

I have learned that when we work together, as health care workers, or as a society, we can achieve anything.

I have learned that even in time of truly heart-breaking reality, we can still prevail.

I have learned that even though we have been on that head-twisting roller coaster, we are still standing.

Today is Doctor’s Day. I am proud working with a phenomenal group of colleagues and health care workers. Just like you, I do not know what the future holds, but I do know that our collective experience gives us insight which further fortifies our resolve as we finalize our struggle against COVID-19. Thank you, fellow colleagues and thank you to all health care workers for all you have done, and continue to do, so that we can, together, remain standing, today.

God bless you. Asante Sana.

Joseph D’Haenens, MD, and daughter Aubrey

Joseph D’Haenens, MD
Emergency Medicine, Assistant Medical Director
Beacon Granger Hospital

I last wrote about what Doctor’s Day means to me back in March of 2019. Then a little something called COVID hit our community, our country, our world. The world of medicine has since hit twist and turns that no one could ever have expected. Looking back over the last several years has allowed me to recognize the number one thing that helped me survive the pandemic: family.

My wife and four children have been incredibly supportive. They have given me the energy to keep fighting through. I have cherished my time off with them and look forward to seeing them during the especially troubling times at work. Their love and support represent exactly what Doctor’s Day means to me.

They were not the only family that have helped get me through these trying times though. As patient volumes grew and staffing diminished our medical community grew closer as a family. Everyone has been asked to do a little bit more and without the support of those working around me there is no way I could have endured. The other physicians, nurses, UAs, lab, radiology, environmental and all other support staff keep our hospital running. They keep me running. Thank you to everyone for all that you do. Without you, there would be no doctors to celebrate on Doctor’s Day 2022.”

Jessica Puckett, DO

Jessica Puckett, DO, MHSA, FACOOG
Family, Internal Medicine and Women Services
Chief of Staff, Three Rivers Health

This is a day that is designed to celebrate doctors and their sacrifices and commitments to the communities they serve.”

Throughout the past two years, and a global pandemic, it has pushed a lot of people to the edge of burnout or over the edge of burnout. As the numbers of COVID infections and death are decreasing, the hope is that the pandemic is ending.

With that thought in mind, as we leave the global pandemic, there is a sense of relief in the medical community and a sense of normalcy returning. I am hopeful that despite this being only one day a year, that people – patients, community members, coworkers, and others – will continue to recognize the work that physicians do for the community year round.

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Your doctor continues to work every day through this challenging time to ensure the best care for you. On National Doctor’s Day, we invite you to honor your doctor by writing a note sharing their impact and making a gift to help others along their health care journey. Click here to share your message of gratitude.

About Jeff Parrott

Parrott is media relations specialist for Beacon Health System. Before taking that role, Parrott worked as a reporter for 25 years at several Indiana and Michigan newspapers. When he isn’t telling the world about Beacon’s incredible associates, he enjoys watching sports, attempting DIY home improvement projects and spending time with his wife and children.