Among the many ripple effects of the pandemic, in the last two years health care workers have reported a disturbingly prolific increase in assaults while they are providing care. According to surveys by the American College of Emergency Physicians and the Emergency Nurses Association, almost half of emergency physicians and 70% of emergency nurses reported being physically assaulted on the job. This phenomenon is not simply something that is showing up in esoteric statistical data but it is playing out every day in Oregon's hospitals.
Several weeks ago, I was toward the end of one of a string of 5 p.m. to 1a.m. emergency department shifts that had prevented me from seeing my two young children for four days straight. A COVID test on an older patient I was taking care of came back positive. The patient had a low oxygen level necessitating admission to the hospital. As I started to discuss the unfortunate result with the patient and family, the patient's son stood up from his chair and walked up to me screaming that he wouldn't't let me admit his father to the hospital so that I could put his father on a ventilator and kill him. I explained that my only goal was to do everything possible to make his father get better and that a ventilator was only a last resort. He pushed his jacket back to reveal a gun holster strapped to his hip and said "If anything happens to my father, I will kill you and your family. It will be World War III."