• Rhyena Halpern

PTSD and Covid


Dr. Lorna M. Breen.Credit…Chris Leary Photography



I can’t stop thinking about the well-respected, bright and warm NYC Emergency Room doctor who became another casualty of the virus, dying by suicide two days ago.

Her name was Dr. Lorna M. Breen, and she was the medical director of the emergency department at NewYork-Presbyterian Allen Hospital. She had contracted Covid 19 after treating many sick patients. After ten days away she returned and was then sent home again as she was not fully recovered. Her parents brought her to their home to Virginia to recuperate, where she died by her own hand. She had no history of depression or mental illness. We don’t know what went through her mind and her heart in her last moments. We don’t know if she was spent, exhausted, ill or overwhelmed. That is hers and hers alone. We only know, as her father was quoted, that she was a very real casualty of the pandemic.

Dr. Breen’s death is haunting me. I keep crying for her pain and suffering. I fear her death portends the demise of many other beloved souls. We are going to see many more suicides in this coming of the second wave. People who are out of work and can no longer hold on, completely destitute. Folks who have to close the successful small businesses they earnestly built years ago and can no longer provide for their families. Emergency medical technicians who are sick with the virus from transporting by ambulance those in urgent need of hospitalization but who have no health insurance and thus, cannot get the care they need.

Heroic doctors and nurses who have seen ferocious illness tear searing red hot holes through their hospitals in the last 6 weeks, who need time and space to process the trauma but are too busy, too anxious, too upset, too sleep deprived to stop and rest. What of the victims of domestic abuse who have been trapped during quarantine, helplessly receiving their mate’s irrational punches and kicks? What about the kids who have lost a parent or sibling? How will they find their way? What about the high school students robbed of prom and graduation? The trauma is real and we still do not know what its tsunami will bring. We will be floating in its debris for a good long time.

Here we are. We are strong and ready to help. We want to be their giving trees. Our hearts are open. We can sing to them; we can cradle them; we can listen to their rage and sorrow. We will help these brave folks who are suffering so completely with the tenderness born from our cell’s core humanity.

Can we open our hearts fast enough to scoop them up and hold them through their pain until they get to the space where they can go on with the living? Can we form a circle around them and make them safe from the memories haunting and throbbing within their cores? PTSD is not just what happens to soldiers in wars. Our first responders are traumatized and we must catch them.

Of course we can. And we must. We will be there for the people who suddenly lost loved ones to Covid through the shock of their grief. We must be there and help them through. We must listen deeply and witness the pain and soften into love and honor and acceptance. We will tap into the endless well of compassion within. We will lean into our eternal strength.

May Dr. Lorna M. Breen’s memory be a blessing to us all. May her life and death inspire us to mobilize and serve.

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