The term “health system deficiency” is a sterile, formal one repeatedly bandied about on the news; translated into simple language, it means a “last bed dilemma.”
Imagine the hospital in your city bursting at the seams due to the overwhelming number of patients, all the spare beds have been brought out of storage, the corridors are packed, tent wards have been erected in the parking lot. And now, even after all that, only one bed is free.
Such a situation can occur for two reasons: First, the continued increase in the number of coronavirus patients.
It’s simple math: When the number of patients exceeds the beds, ventilators, and departments available to a hospital, it's called deficiency.
The second reason is a shortage of medical staff. It’s talked about a little less, but it's no less dangerous than the shortage of medical equipment.
There are hospitals in Israel that have closed wards because the entire staff was forced into isolation. No matter how hard they tried to avoid it, every single member of the team ended up in quarantine, the "closed" sign hung on the door and the patients sent home.
I have seen with my own eyes the distress of a doctor who has been forced to abandon his patients.
So, back to the last bed and how we decide who gets it.
Imagine a 16-year-old boy and a 70-year-old pensioner coming into the hospital at the same time. Which one gets admitted?
The boy hasn't had the chance to experience life yet, but the pensioner fought in our wars and paid taxes for most of his life - taxes that paid for that last hospital bed.
So, who gets the bed? What is the criteria - hope for the future or the rights earned in the past?
Two women arrive at the hospital, one the mother of four and the other the mother of two - who gets the bed? Do we let two children or four become orphans?
What about two sick girls. The first is the only daughter of a single mother who tried for 20 years to conceive via agonizing fertility treatments and the other is the sister of four siblings.
What is the criteria this time? Is it how much sorrow the will decision bring?
And what would happen if a genius scientist on the verge of discovering a cure for the coronavirus comes to an already overloaded hospital, infected with the contagion himself?
Should we unplug a critically ill patient from their ventilator in the hope that treating the doctor instead would save humanity?
Should our decisions be guided by the number of deaths derived from each action we take or do we have no moral right to decide someone’s fate based on statistical considerations?
And how can the same ER doctor, who is forced almost on a daily basis to make such decisions, ever live with herself?
One thing we do know for sure. When that doctor and her colleagues beg us to respect the rules so there is less chance of forcing them into such dilemmas, we owe it to them to listen.
Even if we deny the contagion exists, even if we have no fear of the disease, even if we are convinced that everything is a farce, we must listen to their pleas.