Coronavirus Blog

Coronavirus Blog

Health Humanities during COVID-19

The Health Humanities is the study of the intersection of health and humanistic disciplines (such as philosophy, religion, literature), fine arts, as well as social science research that gives insight to the human condition (such as history, anthropology, sociology, and cultural studies.) (*Adapted from the National Library of Medicine’s definition for Medical Humanities).

The unfolding human suffering caused by the current COVID-19 pandemic invites those who study Health Humanities to contribute to discussions with health scientists, social services providers, and political leaders, about the role of the Humanities in a time of crisis. Undergraduate students enrolled in the senior capstone Health Humanities seminar at Texas A&M were tasked with addressing the question “what does the study of Health Humanities contribute to the current discussion of the coronavirus crisis?” Replies are anonymized and reproduced with permission.


ETHICAL PERSPECTIVES AND PRACTICE

Breaking Down Barriers

The study of Health Humanities contributes to the current discussion of the coronavirus crisis by allowing medical personnel to learn about how patients should be cared for during this novel period.  Studying a patient’s experience allows insight into aspects of care that otherwise might not be seen by others. For example, I analyzed a personal narrative of a man named Carl Goldman who was essentially trapped on a cruise ship in Japan because passengers became infected with the coronavirus. He, however, did not test positive for the coronavirus until he was off the ship. This personal narrative is important because readers are able to gain a greater understanding of what the patient went through in simple dialogue. I analyzed Goldman’s diary entries once he started treatment at a biocontainment unit in Omaha, Nebraska. He stated, “earlier this morning, at 3:18 a.m. to be exact, my nurse entered my room in her full hazmat gear to take a daily sample of my blood. I am curious why most hospitals do this in the middle of the night” (Goldman). The hazmat gear and the time of day that the nurse gave care to Goldman indicates that the nurse did not feel the need to form a relationship with the patient. The hazmat gear, while necessary, created a barrier between the patient and the care-giver. Along with the distance the hazmat gear created, the time of day the nurse provided care did not allow for the patient to be engaged in his treatment since it was in the middle of the night. Even Goldman does not understand why the nurse had to slip in and out of the room during the night, virtually unseen like a ghost in the night. Though the nursing staff is likely overworked during an incident like a pandemic, we can still keep ideals like human communication in mind. The Health Humanities can contribute towards the discussion surrounding the coronavirus by helping implement the more humane aspects of care that are essential to the well-being of patients during this time. A person-person conversation and making the patient aware of treatment can go a long way in comforting a patient that is already in isolation. 

Goldman, Carl. “Santa Clarita Resident Battles Coronavirus After Diamond Princess Cruise: Part 8.” Hometown Station | KHTS FM 98.1 & AM 1220, 11 Mar. 2020, www.hometownstation.com/santa-clarita-news/editorials/santa-clarita-resident-battles-coronavirus-after-diamond-princess-cruise-part-8-313501.

–Clara

Improving Human Life Ethically and Efficiently

During an interview conducted by CNN Health, a thirty-seven year old woman named Elizabeth Schneider discusses her experiences of recovering from COVID-19. We need to study these patients’ experiences to understand better how patients were misdiagnosed or diagnosed too late, and to understand from a historical perspective why we were unprepared. The study of Health Humanities contributes a great deal to the issues we are facing right now in regards to the Coronavirus. Health Humanities is an interdisciplinary field that not only focuses on health care but also the application of creative arts and humanities disciplines. These disciplines such as literary studies, language, religion, and history help give us a greater understanding of all facets of the world’s issues. Health Humanities gives us the ability to answer issues regarding human health and come to an ethical and efficient conclusion of what steps should be done to improve human life in the most ethical way possible.

-Nikola

Reducing Social Stigmatization and its Effects

The National Institutes of Health developed a section on their website for the most updated information on the coronavirus. This particular aspect of the public service announcement, “Reducing Stigma,” not only describes what it means to stigmatize something, but also discusses ways to stop stigmatization. 

As found in the article, the definition of stigma is “when people associate a risk with a specific people, place, or thing – like a minority population group – and there is no evidence that the risk is greater in that group than in the general population” (NIH, 8). This definition is not as well-known as people think; however, stigma is a word often used in Health Humanities studies. By understanding stigma, the public can see the humanistic aspect of a pandemic.  Additionally, “Reducing Stigma” discusses how “fear and anxiety about a disease can lead to social stigma…” (NIH, 1). Even after a patient recovers from COVID-19, social stigma about the disease can negatively affect them, even though they can no longer infect other people. This type of stigmatization can lead to a decrease in a person’s mental health, along with a further sense of isolation, post-recovery. This is important for the general public to recognize in this article due to how it can alter our perception of the current pandemic and how the study of Health Humanities plays a crucial part in changing how we discuss emerging diseases.

Reference:

“Coronavirus (COVID-19).” National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 23 Mar. 2020, www.nih.gov/health-information/coronavirus.

–Alejandra

Potential Consequences of Isolation as Patient Care

The article “Q&A: How to care for the elderly without putting them at risk of coronavirus” answers the question of how philosophy of patient care is especially important in times of a crisis, like the current coronavirus pandemic. The author interviews the AARP chief medical officer, and utilizes a very straightforward structure of question and answer. This format allows the reader to focus on the expert answers, rather than trying to add extra fluff that might take away from the important issue. The article offers solutions of how to stay in touch with elderly family members at a time when limited contact is either suggested or required. Suggestions include video conferencing and handwritten letters. Health Humanities is important in this context, by reminding us that the elderly are still people with social needs like the rest of society. Extended time away from loved ones, during isolation as a precaution, might lead to feelings of loneliness, sadness, and even depression. As a result, protecting them from the coronavirus could put them at risk for other health issues. This article also raises the question of when to pull family members out of nursing homes, explaining that facilities should be following infection control guidelines, which may include limiting visitation of residents. Although this is important for keeping an at-risk population from becoming infected, the Health Humanities perspective might ask what quality of life the residents have in such a situation. When possible, we should follow expert advice, like the advice given in the article mentioned, while continuing to ask questions about how the current philosophy of patient care is affecting patients, and how it could be improved even during times of crisis.

Reference:

Zia, Shafaq. “Q&A: How to care for the elderly without putting them at risk of coronavirus.” STAT, 12 Mar. 2020. https://www.statnews.com/2020/03/12/qa-how-to-care-for-the-elderly-without-putting-them-at-risk-of-coronavirus/. Accessed 25 Mar. 2020.

–Jennifer


LIVED EXPERIENCES

Life Inside the Coronavirus Pandemic

During the COVID-19 pandemic the media has given us statistics and safety precautions as to how to prevent the virus from spreading. Despite the numbers, it is just as important to see firsthand the reality of what people are living through in all aspects of the pandemic. We need to see how it is affecting everyone, people with the virus, people who know others who have the virus, and people who do not have the virus. The study of Health Humanities helps us enlighten the reality of life during a pandemic. 

On January 10, 2020, Wuhan, China suspended all public transportation methods and by January 23 they were officially on lockdown. Lin Wenhua is a healthy filmmaker/volunteer in the city of Wuhan and decided to vlog everything that was going on. Lin decided to volunteer and transport medical staff to work during this pandemic. As he drives through the city, we get a sense of reality because the streets are empty, the architecture is the same, but it is missing the people that give it character and life. Cai Kaihai is a filmmaker who lives in Wuhan and his wife is an emergency room nurse. As cases go up, his wife has unfortunately caught the virus. As Cai films, we get to see how depression takes over his wife and how he himself feels stressed because he wants to help but does not know how. 

Overall this video not only helps us better understand what life is like being on lockdown but the way the video is edited we get to feel the emotions with them. Having real patient experiences type of videos out there for the public to see we feel more connected with one another and have a higher urgency to help each other.   

Reference:

BBC News, “Coronavirus: Life inside China’s lockdown- BBC News”, YouTube, uploaded by BBC News, 16 March 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_UNKr7ot5J8.

–Teresa

Containing the Spread of Misinformation

As we have all probably have noticed there has been a rapid spread of fear, panic, and stress swarming all around us. The normality we were accustomed to in our lives has changed and this period of adjustment is hard and causes fear. John Oliver is a famous talk show host who provides updates of current events using comedy as a way to inform young adults. This week in his Youtube video he talks about the Coronavirus pandemic using jokes to reach his audience while still remaining very informative.  He says “ …the choices we make in the coming days and weeks will contribute directly to how bad this crisis gets and I know that this disruption to your life is annoying and it’s okay to be disappointed or even irritating… I know things are currently very scary and are going to be weird for a while and honestly more likely months and the fact that this is true makes it even more important that going forward we’re gonna need to look out for one another… try your best to tune out and not pass on misinformation …(Oliver 18:14)”  

Social media plays the biggest role in providing information especially in a time like this. The importance of Health Humanities right now is to understand that media is unavoidable and misinformation is unavoidable. Being a Health Humanities activist means we need to have more mind awareness that this is a hard time for everyone and be leaders of positive information like John Oliver. We need to be aware of how to contain the spread of the virus as well as play a part in containing the spread of misinformation. Health Humanities has the ability to think outside the box, and I think John Oliver is the perfect example of what we need to be trying to do. Be informative, be entertaining, be real with your facts, so that people of all ages will watch, be well informed, and be guided by equity rather than selfishness and to know just like how John Oliver said it’s okay to be annoyed and irritated but do your part. 

Reference:

Oliver, John. “ Coronavirus II: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO).” YouTube, uploaded by Last Week Tonight, 16 March 2020 www.youtube.com/watch?v=_066dEkycr4

–Laura

The Danger of Individualistic Culture

Many people do not understand the severity of coronavirus and our defenselessness against it and are acting selfishly due to the individualistic culture of the US. Hopefully, the article “First-Hand Accounts of the Coronavirus Horrors in Italy” by Frank Hornig and Maria Stöhr can provide the uninformed with some perspective. 

Families in Italy have been heavily impacted as the number of cases of coronavirus climb exponentially. Loved ones are not allowed to visit the ill in the hospital and they cannot bury them afterwards, the moderately ill are turned away from the hospital, and patients die alone (4,7,17). Monsignore Giulio Dellavite, a priest, explains the final moments of some patients, “In their final hours, they can’t even look anyone in the face. Everybody is wearing masks… Doctors have told us with tears in their eyes of mortally ill patients pleading for last rites because nobody else is allowed to come see them. Now, they and the nurses aren’t just responsible for their medical treatment, but also for their spiritual well-being” (12-13). 

These shocking accounts illustrate the importance of our responsibility as individuals to flatten the infection rate, self-quarantine, and be mindful of others’ health. Hopefully, the public will choose to personally sacrifice, though it may cross the line into their freedom, for others’ sake and the nation’s health. This is where we see the impact of humanity’s choices on health. Our culture, the narratives we hear, and our personal decisions may be life or death for our neighbors. The people of Italy were robbed of their chance to say goodbye and to bury their loved ones, but we still have a choice to distance ourselves. Though US citizens are centered around ideals of individual freedom, our culture is starting to affect our ability to stop a virus from spreading to others.

Reference:

Hornig, Frank, and Maria Stöhr. “Dying in Solitude: First-Hand Accounts of the Coronavirus Horrors in Italy – DER SPIEGEL – International.” DER SPIEGEL, DER SPIEGEL, 24 Mar. 2020,  www.spiegel.de/international/europe/dying-in-solitude-first-hand-accounts-of-the-coronavirus-horrors-in-italy-a-371012bf-67eb-4bf8-a5dc-828e12c2be06.

–Steffanie


ADDRESSING ANXIETY AND FEAR

Addressing the Fear and Validating the Reaction

2020 has already been a tumultuous year. Within a 3-month time frame, society has been fundamentally altered from a global pandemic and looming recession. Between scientists, doctors, politicians, epidemiologists, and the media, information and advice is constantly circulating to the confused public. However, Health Humanities scholars offer a unique voice in the discussion– one that addresses all parties at play and can provide a meaningful explanation of this crisis. As Health Humanities aims to bridge divides, the need is made even clearer at this time where little uniformity is in place and uncertainty is abundant. Analyzing a children’s book created by a UK nurse, the need for Health Humanities in a time of great unknown becomes further apparent. Written and illustrated by Molly Watts, an online, informative, picture book directed at children debunks and calms worries about COVID-19. In child-friendly terms, it explains proper handwashing techniques, social distancing, and why there is no need to fear. Though the book is simplistic and not a great work of scholarly diction, it still highlights how Health Humanities is interwoven into all other disciplines that are aiming to combat the coronavirus. Health Humanities looks to history, philosophy, clinical accounts, psychology, literature, and other fields to explain disease. Much like how Molly Watts addresses fear and validates that reaction to a deadly virus, Health Humanities choses to take a compassionate as well as critical perspective on these trying times. As we venture through this pandemic and have numerous questions that remain answered, Health Humanities serves to make the time of struggle meaningful and recognize society’s varying responses. 

Watts, Molly. Nursedottybooks.files.wordpress.com. Nurse Dotty Books, 2020, nursedottybooks.files.wordpress.com/2020/03/dave-the-dog-coronavirus-1-1.pdf.

-Victoria

Isolated, but not Alone

It seems that now whenever you turn on the news, whatever social media platform you access, you’ll see something regarding COVID-19. And while as future health professionals we should see this as a good thing, people getting involved and talking about the steps to take and where to go if you need water or diapers or meat, we should also remember that the internet is a place where anyone can post anything without thinking of the consequences. Fear and anxiety are two emotions that can cause health issues for many who are nervously waiting for this storm to pass. 

The Verge recently posted an article, “COVID-19 anxiety taking a toll? There’s a subreddit for that” about a Reddit group that provides emotional support for people who are going through a difficult time at this moment. As I read, I realized that the fears and concerns I have, many others have too. We’re all wondering if there will be a nation-wide shutdown, or where the next paycheck will come from if the family provider loses their income, or when the vaccine will be available for everyone, not just a select few. (Or if you’re a graduating senior, when exactly will the spring class of 2020 be able to walk the stage?)

This article highlights the importance of Health Humanities during times like today. It shows us that having not only good health but also a strong support system – whatever that may look like— is crucial in getting through life. People find reassurance and comfort that they’ll be able to make it through this pandemic in others. And it seems that talking to someone, even if that’s Reddit for these 11,900 members, is exactly what they need to find peace. COVID-19 and the humanities tell us that we’re all intertwined, whether we admit it or not. That whatever you do or don’t do affects someone who will then affect someone else and so on. And that there is a crucial role narrative plays when it comes to illness, that we desperately need them to find compassion for others, learn from them and ways to proceed next.

Reference:

Taylor, Erin. “COVID-19 Anxiety Taking a Toll? There’s a Subreddit for That.” The Verge, The Verge, 25 Mar. 2020, www.theverge.com/2020/3/25/21193950/covid-19-coronavirus-anxiety-subreddit-community-support-group.

–Ava