Will this be history?
Challenges of 2020
January 1 st 2020 feels almost as if it was a different historical time period. As we look through the photos on our smartphones, laden with gatherings and in-person engagement, in so many ways, modern humankind’s self-perception will be divided into the time before and the time after the emergence of SARS-CoV-2. While we have reason to hope that the future holds a promise of “normalcy,” that term in and of itself will likely be defined in different terms because of this global pandemic.
While 2020 has brought new challenges, etched into our consciences indefinitely, in some ways it has reminded us that history does not new stories tell. We only need to rewind four generations, to 1918, to learn of our last global pandemic that took the lives of millions upon millions, while wreaking havoc over two years.
Despite all of our advancements, biology remains ever powerful. The virus mutates and pursues its innate mission of spread. Unlike 100 years ago, science now has knowledge of genetic code, enabling, with global collaboration, our scientists, researchers, and institutions to develop, assess, and ready vaccines in under twelve months. This is astounding. SARS-CoV-2 has perhaps paved the way for a new class of vaccinations, based entirely on messenger RNA. It has served as a living lab, for which the hypothetical previously existed, now borne out in a time of crisis. As antibiotics reduced the ravages of infection in the 20 th century, perhaps messenger RNA vaccines may be a new tool against the scourges of the 21 st century.
In 2020, we have altered our practices, becoming proficient at telehealth. In years gone by, providers made housecalls, taking the care directly to the patients, treating them in the comfort of their homes. Practice has come full circle, now utilizing technology to virtually visit, interview, and counsel patients, albeit without the physical exam. One can imagine a future iteration of telehealth, with visits informed by remote biometrics such as vital signs, and perhaps even labwork, made immediately available to the treating practitioner. This past year has advanced telehealth a decade in one year’s time, paving the way for a change in healthcare delivery that will echo into the future and stand as a watershed moment.
We have learned that while we yearn for the interaction with our peers, only attainable at in-person conferences, we can have worthwhile didactics, information exchanges, and reduce our carbon footprint with the amazing virtual meeting platforms now available.
2020 has reminded us of the uniqueness of our vocation. We are fortunate to be a part of the practice of medicine, lined shoulder-to-shoulder in our efforts to heal those who are ill. At a time when it makes sense to stay home as much as possible to avoid the fray, we ready ourselves in the mornings (or evenings) and go to our places of work to care for those who need us. We have turned our car trunks and garages into makeshift decontamination sites, full of masks, hand sanitizers and alcohol sprays, in efforts to limit the exposure to our loved ones. We have been reminded of our appreciation for each other, for our colleagues. We are grateful to our professional societies, issuing important guidance to give us reassurances in times of uncertainty. We remember and honor the healthcare workers who gave all during this global pandemic.
Humankind’s unique ability to identify and overcome obstacles have separated it out from the ubiquity of time. The era of SARS-CoV-2, in 2020, has given us tragedy, sadness, but also has re-demonstrated how science and medicine continue to stand as sentinels, assisting in the propulsion of civilization through darkness. We all took this oath. 2020 tested it. We are proud to stand together and collectively push forward.
Seth A. Cohen, M.D., F.A.C.S.
Assistant Clinical Professor
Division of Urology and Urologic Oncology
Department of Surgery
City of Hope