As a resident physician keen on academia and research, I have many doctors and scientists who I aspire to be more like. As a future-driven person, I am constantly awed by various inspirational, well-educated, and even better-poised men and women who have changed our society and the world. But today’s situation is different. Today’s situation makes my inspirations quite different from that of a typical young physician.
As a resident doctor, I have front-row seats to the environment in our California hospitals during this trying time. The smell of fear laces the air at our institution—fear of the spread of this novel COVID-19, fear of the surge of patients we are all anticipating, fear we all share for our families and children at home. In Northern California—at least for today, the middle of April—we wait with bated breath for the waves of ventilator-dependent patients we fear are days away. We wait for the limited-protection environment that many of our colleagues are currently enduring. We still have ample PPE in our hospital, per the correspondence from hospital administration—and I feel lucky. Certainly luckier than those who need it the most currently.
Meanwhile, the sensations of our colleagues in other parts of this state and country (and our colleagues in other countries) are flooded by sickness. Their hallways are stricken by the smell of death. The mask ties lay tight across their cheeks, etching into their skin. Their ears are haunted by the grief of yet another family member they call with bad news … another “code blue” called overhead. They cherish the taste of a meal if they have a chance that shift. And their eyes … well, they just long for the night of peaceful sleep that may still be months away. This hospital environment is different.
Amidst this ever-changing chaos are the likes of Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has been at the forefront against many diseases as they reared their ugly heads. At the frontlines against HIV, as it began to claim lives, he conducted research to better understand the virus, and led initiatives towards treatments and prevention. He assisted in the creation of the “President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief” (PEPFAR), thus saving the lives of countless. He discovered treatments for immune-mediated diseases that were previously fatal. An inspiration, truly. An inspiration similar to the other prestigious and degree-spangled scientists both in the past and present who have changed the world and inspired young physicians across the planet. But times are different.
SARS-CoV-2 has quickly changed the lives of all of our country’s men and women, but has dangerously changed the lives of our physicians, researchers, lab technicians, and others in our profession. As a young physician, these are people whose love for human life inspires me to continue doing the same. The scientists who scramble against time to develop vaccines for this strain are my inspiration. They know not if they will succeed, they know not if their family members will be casualties of this pandemic—but they spend precious time trying anyway. I am inspired by the technicians, nurses, and others who are older in age but with a much-younger zealousness tell me they want to “do my part,” knowing their life is at stake. I am inspired by the environmental services member who I have become well-acquainted with over the years—who left her children to come into work, and verbally confirmed that we had plenty of wipes to clean our equipment and workstations.
Plenty of pharmacists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, phlebotomists, paramedics, ER technicians, patient transport staff, researchers, nurses, physicians, and many more titles I have certainly missed are practicing daily what I consider the basis of medicine. Medical science or investigation, to me, involves investigating various topics and implementing changes for one ultimate purpose—to improve or save the lives of others. The people I am surrounded by during this pandemic may not be academic-laden scientists by trade or education. Times are different. And humanity during these times yearns for far more than academic curiosity and scientific intellect. These individuals emanate courage, selflessness, and a palpable love for humanity that will forever be an inspiration to my practice as a medical doctor.
Hemali Patel is a resident physician and can be reached on Instagram @drpatelproofreads.
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