Dr. Kevin Riutzel offers insight into “the new normal.”
“Is this normal?”
Today, if you turn on any major news network, a lot of buzzwords are thrown about—such is the business of media. Yet a popular phrase these days is “the new normal.” There are so many questions like,
“Will temperature checks at your favorite restaurant be the new normal?”
“Will online meetings replace in-person businesses and become the new normal?”
“Forget what you knew folks—this looks like it could be the new normal!”
When the 2008 recession hit the nation, I had just received my graduate degree from Columbia and professional training to work on the ambulances as an EMT. However, I couldn’t use any of it. I’d hear, “We’d love to hire you, but we can’t during this time.”
And because of that, I had to adapt. I moved back to San Diego in with my old roommates and luckily Island’s Burgers allowed me to work as a host; P.F. Chang’s brought me on as a back-waiter; and since I had worked part-time at the Hyatt right by campus throughout undergrad, they let me work there as well. The economy slowly picked back up, and 9-1-1 hired me to work on their ambulances.
In the urgent cares where I work, volume was very high at the start of the pandemic and dropped to half the number of patients as people stayed at home. The workplace went from packed exam rooms with people literally yelling at me to test them, at a time when we didn’t have enough tests, to halving the number of providers at each site.
Over at the primary care offices I work for, volume didn’t change much. But most of the visits are now by phone—challenging us to diagnose and treat underserved people with medically-complex issues. My colleagues and I also have to find innovative ways to convince very reluctant people to go to the hospital when they’re having a bona fide medical emergency. Telemedicine jobs have seen a huge demand open up, and I’ve started to see if I can lend my training that way.
This pandemic has brought on human suffering from multiple angles—physical, mental, emotional, fiscal, and even spiritual for some. People’s livelihoods have been put on the line in the shadow of those who cannot even have a proper burial for their loved ones who have passed from this disease.
Yet, as history would teach us, we humans are very resilient. With each war, each disease, each disaster, and each chapter of human suffering emerges a society that has learned, fought together, and survived. It highlights one of the unique strengths of humanity itself—our incredible adaptability.
In medicine, people sometimes lose faith in doctors because the normal continues to change:
“Take this pill—it will help prevent a heart attack.”
“Stop taking this pill—it could lead to a heart attack.”
“Eat a low-fat diet.”
“No, now eat a low-carb diet.”
It’s no surprise that people become confused with what the “normal” should be.
And yet, that’s precisely it: Normal evolves as we do. As we learn more, as we develop better scientific methodology, as we create solutions to problems in innovative ways, our normal changes. And that can be a beautiful thing.
This virus has done a lot of harm. And yet, as some of the other stories in Triton magazine have illustrated, we refuse to just sit back and throw up our hands. We survive.
Medicine has finally been pushed to adapting to telehealth encounters. Restaurateurs are thinking of innovative ways to keep patrons safe while still allowing a delicious dining experience. Manufacturers have changed their machines to produce masks and plexiglass to keep us safe. TV hosts, DJs, artists, and musicians have taken online platforms to new heights to entertain us from the very safe comfort of our own homes.
There is hope. There is toilet paper back on the shelves. There will be an end to this chapter of our lives. This virus doesn’t adapt as fast as we do. Don’t let COVID-19 stop you—let it evolve you.
And with that, please eat your fruits and vegetables, and brush and floss your teeth. And please mentor someone during this time. It is something that we all can do from anywhere we are.
Kevin Riutzel ’07 is a physician working at urgent care sites in Orange County and primary care sites throughout Los Angeles. He received a bachelor of science degree in human biology from UC San Diego’s Warren College in 2007. He attended medical school at Touro University in Las Vegas, Nevada and trained in family medicine at UC Irvine.