Doctors, nurses battle 'emotional distress’ caused by coronavirus skeptics

FILE - In this April 24, 202, file photo, a nurse demonstrating in favor of business closures is surrounded by demonstrators against Gov. Tony Evers' restrictions on daily life due to the coronavirus pandemic at the Capitol in Madison, Wis. Doctors and nurses treating those sick and dying from the coronavirus said politics around social distancing and the lethality of the virus are complicating treatment efforts. (Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel via AP, File)

Credit: Mark Hoffman

Credit: Mark Hoffman

Doctors and nurses say the politics of the crisis are complicating treatment efforts

MISSION, Kansas — Treating the sick and dying isn’t even the toughest part for nurse Amelia Montgomery as the coronavirus surges in her corner of America.

It’s dealing with patients and relatives who don’t believe the virus is real, refuse to wear masks and demand treatments like hydroxychloroquine, even though experts say it is not effective against the scourge that has killed more than 210,000 in the United States.

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Montgomery finds herself, like so many other doctors and nurses, in a world where the politics of the crisis are complicating treatment efforts, with some people even resisting getting tested.

After one tough shift in the coronavirus unit at Cox South Hospital in Springfield, Missouri, Montgomery went onto Facebook to vent her frustrations about caring for patients who didn’t socially distance because they didn’t believe the virus was real. The hospital later shared her post on its website.

She complained that some people demand the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine and think the only patients who get really sick have underlying health problems.

“The majority of people don’t understand and can’t picture what we are seeing. That has been frustrating for all of us,” Montgomery said in an interview, adding: “It wears.”

Combating virus skeptics is a battle across the country.

In Georgia, at Augusta University Medical Center, visitors have tried to get around the mask requirement by wearing face coverings made of fishnet and other material with visible holes, something the hospital has dubbed “malicious compliance." People also have shown up with video cameras in an attempt to collect proof the virus is a hoax, said Dr. Phillip Coule, the health system's chief medical officer, who contracted the virus in July and has seen two staff members die.

“Just imagine that while you are caring for your own staff that are dying from this disease, and while you are trying to keep yourself safe, and you are trying to keep your family safe, and you are trying to deal with a disease that such little is known about, and then to have somebody tell you that it is all a hoax after you have been dealing with that all day," he said. “Imagine the emotional distress that causes.”

He said most skeptics — including some who have argued with him on Facebook — are converted to believers when they get sick themselves. And he is starting to hear fewer people dismiss the virus entirely since the president was diagnosed.

“It is unfortunate that the president has contracted the disease, but it is difficult for groups who support the president to be out there saying it doesn’t exist," he said.

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But he also said he fears people may draw the wrong lesson about the seriousness of the disease from what happened to President Donald Trump: “People may extrapolate that the risk for a 74-year-old is low when the reality is the risk to a 74-year-old is quite high.”

The issue has been a challenge in some states for months.

In Iowa, home health nurse Lisa Dockery was fired from her job caring for a boy with severe disabilities after arguing with his parents, who said COVID-19 is a “hoax.” The argument started because the parents refused to wear masks around Dockery and the boy, even though she told them their son's life was in danger because he has respiratory problems, relies on tube feedings and cannot walk, state unemployment records show.

The case ended with a judge ordering her former employer to pay her unemployment.

Dr. Gary LeRoy, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, said he isn’t surprised that it has been so hard to persuade the public, noting that there was also a lot of denial as the Spanish flu was sweeping across the world a century ago, killing tens of millions of people.

“When you look at human history, it is what happens in every situation," he said. “In war, in famine, in disease, there is going to be a population of people where the bombs are dropping all around them and they don’t believe that it exists.”

Dr. Brad Burmeister, an emergency medicine physician at Bellin Hospital in Green Bay, Wisconsin, said he has encountered a few patients who have declined to be tested for the coronavirus despite having possible symptoms.

“They say they don’t want to become a statistic or some kind of rhetoric like that," he said, adding that he thinks a shift might be coming, given what happened to Trump. “It just sort of shows how infectious COVID-19 is and how easily it can spread, that even when you are taking all of those precautions, you can still get infected with the virus."

Dr. Natasha Bhuyan, a family physician in Phoenix, said politics often come up in discussions with patients who come in asking whether the death toll is being inflated.

“It’s an info-demic as well as a pandemic,” she lamented.

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Dr. Jay W. Lee, a family physician in Orange County, California, recalled a patient who demanded the “largest hydroxychloroquine prescription you can give me."

“If I didn’t have my mask on, he would have seen my mouth agape,” said Lee, chief medical officer of the Share Our Selves medical clinics, adding that a small number of patients “flat-out said this was a hoax."

He has found himself turning to social media and meeting with elected leaders to combat some of the misinformation.

“I think part of it is we feel like we can’t just sit back and take it because silence is complicity,” he said.

In this Sept. 21, 2020, photo provided by CoxHealth, nurse Amelia Montgomery poses for a photo at Cox South Hospital in Springfield, Mo. Treating the sick and dying isn't even the toughest part for Montgomery as the coronavirus surges in her corner of red America. She says it's dealing with patients and relatives who don't believe the virus is real. (Kaitlyn McConnell/CoxHealth via AP)

Credit: Kaitlyn McConnell

Credit: Kaitlyn McConnell

FILE - In this Aug. 30, 2020, file photo, people hold signs while protesting outside the Massachusetts State House in Boston. Doctors and nurses treating those sick and dying from the coronavirus said politics around social distancing and the lethality of the virus are complicating treatment efforts. (Nancy Lane/Boston Herald via AP, File)

Credit: Nancy Lane

Credit: Nancy Lane

FILE - This Tuesday, April 7, 2020, file photo shows a bottle of hydroxychloroquine tablets in Texas City, Texas. Doctors and nurses treating those sick and dying from the coroanvirus said politics around social distancing and the lethality of the virus are complicating treatment efforts. Some demand to be prescribed the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine that President Donald Trump has championed, although experts have said it's not effective against COVID-19. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)

Credit: David J. Phillip

Credit: David J. Phillip

FILE - In this April 22, 2020, file photo, a nurse prepares to take a sample for a COVID-19 test during a drive-in testing outreach in the parking lot of a church in Kansas City, Mo. Doctors and nurses treating those sick and dying from the coronavirus said politics around social distancing and the lethality of the virus are complicating treatment efforts. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

Credit: Charlie Riedel

Credit: Charlie Riedel

FILE - In this May 23, 2020, file photo, pedestrians pass a social distancing sign along a mostly empty boardwalk in Ocean Grove, N.J., during the coronavirus pandemic. Doctors and nurses treating those sick and dying from the coronavirus said politics around social distancing and the lethality of the virus are complicating treatment efforts. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

Credit: John Minchillo

Credit: John Minchillo

FILE - In this May 20, 2020, file photo, Kansas National Guard member Jessica Pal collects a sample at a drive-thru COVID-19 testing site in Dodge City, Kan. Doctors and nurses treating those sick and dying from the coronavirus said politics around social distancing and the lethality of the virus are complicating treatment efforts. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

Credit: Charlie Riedel

Credit: Charlie Riedel

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