It’s a MaineHealth policy that doctors must wear gloves in the operating room. No matter how healthy their patient is, no matter how much they have scrubbed their hands, they need to wear gloves if they are using those scalpels.

If a doctor has a latex allergy, they can wear gloves of a different material, but if they refused to wear gloves, MaineHealth would fire them. If a nurse insisted on wearing pajamas instead of scrubs, MaineHealth would fire them. Honestly, MaineHealth can fire pretty much anyone for pretty much anything, because most Mainers are at-will employees, with a few civil rights protections. For example, my boss cannot legally fire me on account of being a woman (gender-based discrimination), but she could fire me for wearing too much pink.

I am an employee of MaineHealth and I fully support a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care workers, with no exceptions other than medical ones. I will nitpick on one thing: It shouldn’t be called a “vaccine mandate.” It is an “immunization requirement.” Nobody is going to chase you down with a syringe, but proof of immunization will now be just another job requirement. You wouldn’t hire a doctor who didn’t have a medical license, after all. Besides, MaineHealth already requires several vaccinations for most of their employees, so I’m not really sure why everyone is getting their knickers in a twist over the coronavirus vaccine in particular.

The reason I support the requirement that health care workers be vaccinated against COVID is simple: the numbers. We deal with dozens of patients every day, and usually they are sick (that’s why they’re, you know, patients). The more human bodies you come into contact with, the more likely you are to pick up and pass on germs.

One argument against requiring vaccination as a condition of employment is that it could lead to health care worker shortages. Trust me, I’m aware of the problem. We’re already short-staffed everywhere. For the past two months, in addition to working my usual 40-hour workweek in the lung clinic, I have been picking up 12-hour weekend shifts at the Urgent Care. I have worked several 64-hour weeks; there was one stretch of July where I did not have a day off for 18 days. The last thing we need is people quitting, but the second to last thing we need is employees having to quarantine for two weeks because they caught COVID.

But if you don’t believe enough in the science of vaccines to realize they are safe and effective, and if you don’t care enough about your patients to do everything in your power to protect them, you probably shouldn’t be working in health care anyway. Everywhere is short-staffed, and everywhere is hiring. There are plenty of jobs out there. Go get one.

All the colleagues I have been lucky enough to work with have been amazing. The doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, medical assistants, and my fellow medical secretaries: they have been busting their butts like nobody’s business to help people. My co-workers are heroes; they might not describe themselves as such but they are. They get up every day, go to work, nose to the grindstone, to try and make people’s lives better, and I have pretty much zero respect for anyone who makes their life harder by adding to the spread of COVID.

Maybe I’m being a little harsh, but I work in a lung clinic; our patients have severe COPD, asthma, sarcoidosis, cancer. I don’t want to think too closely about what would happen if they caught COVID-19 and developed pneumonia. It’s bad enough when previously healthy lungs fill with fluid, but lungs that have a pre-existing condition? Lord have mercy.

Longtime readers who suffered through 2020 with me will know that I wasn’t afraid of getting COVID myself, but I was terrified of being a vector. The idea of unwittingly passing on a deadly respiratory virus to someone else terrifies me. That’s why I spent most of 2020 shut in the house; every person at home is one less possible virus host circulating in the community breathing on things. It’s why I’m such a witch about vaccines and masking. (My dog is in charge of social distancing, and she’s very good about warning people to stay roughly 15 feet away from me at all times.)

I’m just a medical secretary. What I do is important, but when it comes to directly saving someone’s life, I’m the least vital person in the room.

But when I took this job, I made a vow to myself to treat all my patients the way I would have wanted my dad to be treated. And step one of treating others the way you want your loved ones treated is not making them sicker. First: Do no harm.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: @mainemillennial

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