Fourteen days of social distancing have passed. Emotions are high all around. The wicked foreboding of the mysteriously menacing novel Coronavirus has spared no one. Everyone is scared. The cleaning staff, scrubbing, and wiping just one more time. The techs, maintaining stoicism behind masked faces. The patients, eyes darting with fear. The nurses, bravely caring for their patients. The reality is that the physicians are scared too. We are all clouded in the worry that either we will get sick or compromise the health of a loved one at home.
Human beings are social creatures. The dinners or parties bursting with the melody of bustle and chitter-chatter are enticing to us all. Unfortunately, these very events that connect us have the potential to kill us today. Breathe the air of an infected person less than six feet away, and coronavirus settles in, like fine dust. It will inveigle its entry into the lungs and ultimately result in insidious cytokinetic demise.
Despite the social distancing and general loneliness that ensues, I’m also seeing people rallying together. More teamwork. More appreciation for each other’s hard work. Everyone taking a few extra minutes to check in on each other. Friends and community reaching out to those of us on the frontlines.
Rarely does anyone ask how the physician is doing. Yesterday, a nurse stopped me in the hall and asked about my well-being. She noted that I’m usually more effusive and stylish and wanted to check in with me. I was truly touched. A patient’s family member told me that she had peace of mind knowing I was caring for her relative and that she trusted my clinical judgment completely. The ultimate compliment. These may seem like little things, but remember, people will always complain before they commend.
It’s been two days of young people ending up in the ICU. Twenty percent of COVID-19 cases have been health care workers. We all look at each other and pray that we won’t have to code one of our colleagues. I’ve discussed my advanced directives with my husband. And I have shared my wishes with my colleagues. Never thought we would bond this way.
So. Two weeks into this pandemic. I find myself alternating between sadness, fear, optimism, and sheer anger. My psychiatrist colleagues tell me this is normal grief.
Grief at the complete disruption of “normal” life.
Grief for the lives lost, one-fifth of which are health care workers.
Grief for the unknown ahead.
What is known is that life as we knew it will never be the same again.
Uzma Khan is a hospitalist who blogs at Me and My Stethoscope and can be reached on Facebook.
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