The Temptations were the first to record the song War written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong. However, Edwin Starr’s version of the song became the 70’s Vietnam-era hit, which distinctly summarizes the horror and futility of war. As we watch the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the antiwar anthem relates to our work as healers, although I’m still trying to fully understand exactly how.
Maybe my conundrum is trying to understand how our mission as PAs and nurse practitioners (NPs) as healers interfaces with the brutality of war. I was never in the military but I have plenty of close friends and PA colleagues who were, many of whom served in wartime duty.
How can we square our work and our mission as healers with the complete antithetical human activity called war? I don’t need to spell it out, but the death, destruction, and sadness of war seem to go against everything that we have been trained to do.
It’s hard to go to work each day and square what I do with what is happening in Ukraine; and my patients agree. Most of them come to my office with something to say and with thoughts to share about the horrors of what is happening in Ukraine. They come not just wanting to talk about their methadone dose, but with a need to talk about what they are hearing, watching, and thinking about regarding the war.
Many of my patients, like me, also worry about where this will end. They wonder about what will happen if the war expands, and worry about what will happen to the world, and to Seattle, if a nuclear war breaks out.
I don’t really see war in political terms and I never have. Razing entire communities to the ground and turning cities into dust is not something that I see as a political act. Instead, it seems like an archaic and bizarrely primitive venture that we as world citizens should have grown out of centuries ago.
But here we are, viewing, reading, and hearing all the disturbing images daily on TV, in newspapers, and on the radio. I, like my patients, am having great difficulty getting those images out of my head. We try to not obsess about what’s happening in Ukraine; we try to watch, listen, read, and think about other things, things that make us feel good. But underneath it all, war simmers and boils over, reminding us about all the suffering and misery that is happening not only in Ukraine but around the world.
This is trauma to be sure, for my patients, my coworkers, and me.
Sometimes it makes me think that all the work I do as a PA to help my fellow humans is futile. How many patients does it take to get them on the right track to equal the sadness of a maternity hospital being bombed? What is that equation?
I know in my heart that such thinking is likely doomed and not productive. I know that I need to stay focused on the work in front of me, on trying to help my patients deal with their opioid addictions, and stay tuned into refining daily the skills that I must use to help keep them alive.
I also know that I need to be extra mindful about self-care, staying hydrated, exercising, eating good foods as much as I can, and keeping my nose out of the media depictions of the war images that are pasted from one end of my consciousness to the other.
But I also know that as medical providers, we can’t tune it out. We must acknowledge not only that it’s happening, but also balance that with the need to do our work, to care for our patients, and to do everything in our power to try and stay sane in the face of the total insanity that is war.