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'Stab in the heart': Health care workers reflect on abuse they've faced during pandemic

Paul Schwedelson, Idaho Statesman on

Published in Health & Fitness

Household chores went undone. She didn't socialize with friends. Living through the fight against COVID-19 was inescapable at all times.

Given what she was dealing with, Koberlein took a month of leave.

"This is what I feel I was born to do," Koberlein said. "To have someone say I'm not doing everything I can for their loved one, it's a stab in the heart."

Fighting to save patients with COVID-19 was already "hugely challenging," said Ashley Carvalho, a doctor serving patients in Boise. Now, treating COVID-19 has come to mean navigating tense conversations with patients' family members, explaining research studies and fending off accusations.

In mid-September, Carvalho was treating a COVID-19 patient in the ICU, but the patient's family declined treatments like remdesivir and steroids, which are proven to be beneficial, Carvalho said.

Instead, the family insisted that the patient receive ivermectin, which hasn't been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat COVID-19. Ivermectin is an anti-parasitic drug that's used to treat diseases including parasitic worms and head lice. Carvalho said physicians aren't licensed to prescribe the drug for COVID-19 patients.

 

When she tried explaining that to the family, Carvalho said the situation became "highly emotionally charged." Then a family member threatened her with violence.

"I have lots of ways to get people to do things I want them to do," Carvalho recalled the family member saying, "and they're all sitting in my gun safe at home."

Carvalho called for security, and the family was escorted out of the hospital. She was disturbed by what was said. And because of the refusals, she was upset she couldn't help the patient more.

While that was her most upsetting experience, Carvalho said, she's now used to facing confrontations at least once a day.

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