Tense and Tempestuous Tones

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Tense and Tempestuous Tones

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In the year 2020, I was a medical assistant working for a cancer surgery clinic. The pandemic posed huge challenges for people working in healthcare and created new staggering standards for cleanliness and infection control. With limited personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies, it made everyday clinic operations very challenging. With cancer patients, most of whom were undergoing treatments that lowered their immune system, and many of whom had just had surgery which can increase risk of infection, medical staff took COVID safety precautions very seriously. Dealing with people battling illness can be challenging under normal circumstances because they are often feeling emotional and scared, but during COVID, tensions were running even higher. I will never forget patients using condescending, edgy, and outright angry tones with me when I would call for a COVID symptom screening prior to their appointment, inform them that they had to wear a mask at all times while in the clinic, or that they were unable to bring a family member to the exam room during a follow-up appointment with a doctor. Over the phone and in person, many patients used tense and tempestuous tones to take out their anger over a situation none of us had any control over. Often, there were political connotations to any discussion of clinic COVID policy, which was unusual in a conversation about infection control. Many patients would protest getting their temperature taken or question the accuracy of their oximetry reading (a started part of vitals even before the pandemic). It was always a relief to have a patient who took a dignified breath and calmly understood that the rules were in place for everyone's safety and were an inconvenience to all involved. There were several days where I would go off to an empty exam room during my lunch break and cry. Tension during the first year of the COVID pandemic was audible.

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This item was submitted on October 15, 2021 by Jillian Knight using the form “Share Your Story” on the site “A Journal of the Plague Year”:

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