I am not referring to the people who actually get ill with COVID 19 and are either sent home or deteriorate and get admitted and put on ventilators. I’m referring to a greater phenomenon that I’ve been noticing since this whole pandemic crisis began and people have been asked to stay at home and quarantine themselves.
Most healthcare systems around the world have cancelled elective procedures and surgeries in order to create the medical ward and intensive care unit capacity to look after the surge of COVID 19 patients that were expected. I, personally, work at two main hospitals and a third one on an occasional basis in south central Ontario. I am also in touch with colleagues at other hospitals and we have all noticed that the crush of patients that used to flood the emergency departments and hospital wards has dissipated. In fact, most hospital wards, in Ontario, are only two thirds full with ample beds which is far from the norm which is full capacity.
Family physicians and specialists are also not physically seeing their patients and are attending to their most urgent patients by phone or video conference. Now, one could argue that the decrease in patient volumes is because people are avoiding hospitals for fear of contacting COVID 19. However, one would expect more patients to utilize emergency departments due to lack of access to their own doctors.
I believe there is bigger phenomenon happening here. I believe that patients are now being forced to realize that the healthcare system that they have relied on for years is fragile at best and creates a safety net that could be taken away at any time. The lesson that they are being forced to learn very quickly is that they cannot rely on the modern healthcare system.
Now, I’m not saying this to instigate fear but am simply stating facts. The facts are that the healthcare system is now forced to mainly care for COVID 19 patients because of the current pandemic. This does not mean that other patients will not be cared for but pandemic patients are the main priority at this time.
Part of this phenomenon is that, with all of us being forced to stay home, there is less stress in people’s lives. The stress that is created by having to get up early everyday, commuting through rush hour traffic to work, the demands of our work environments including dealing with our colleagues and superiors, if you have children, getting them to their activities, helping them with their homework and ensuring their success in school, getting dinner ready after a long day at work, chasing after material things or experiences such as vacations, to name a few.
I believe that a big factor as to why there are less patients going to emergency departments is because most of their stress has been removed and their chronic illnesses are improving. Stress has long been known as a major risk factor for many chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes mellitus, heart disease, stroke, cancer and dementia. In addition, people are now forced to look after their own health because of lack of access to the healthcare system.
Does this mean that people are now getting enough sleep, hydrating well, eating well, exercising, meditating and spending quality time with their families and loved ones? I have no data to prove that this is true except for the fact that the only thing that has changed is that people now have to stay at home with less access to their own doctors and the things that they used to do.
Therefore, what COVID 19 is teaching us about our own health is that it has always been in our own hands. There is nothing outside of ourselves which can help us overcome chronic disease and get healthy. It all lies within us. This is especially true of COVID 19 infection, for which we have no defined treatment and for which the only intervention that can help is to strengthen your immune system.
COVID 19 has come as a wake up call for all of humanity to realize the innate power we all have to empower our own health from the inside out. The healthcare system, which we have all come to rely on so heavily, may soon be seen as the exception and not the rule as we each step into a new era to carve our unique path to optimizing our health.
In my next article, I’ll outline a path that you can start on to take control of your own health and healing. In the meantime, journal about what small changes you can make in your own lifestyle to empower your health.
Nauman Naeem MD