The following is a transcription of Dr. Deshpande’s spoken story.
What is wrong with me? I’ve been doing this for 25 years. Why am I so scared now? That’s what I’m thinking as I drive to the hospital during the early part of the pandemic, March, April 2020. I am at the hospital’s parking garage, and there is a BIG sign: “Health care heroes work here!”
Hero? I don’t feel like one! I feel exactly like a chicken, entering the hospital.
I start my day seeing patients. And soon, there is a call from the ER: “Dr. Deshpande, we have a patient, for you to admit, with COVID. COVID pneumonia needing a lot of oxygen.” OK, I dress up, not the runway kind of dress up! Dress-up is “redefined” as N95, face shield, and scrubs, gown, gloves, no ring, and fear. I go down to the ER, see the patient, do what I can, hope for the best, and then get out and start scrubbing my hands like never before, as if I’m a big-time surgeon, when in reality, I’m just an ordinary medical doctor. And I look in the mirror. Is that me?! My face personifies anxiety. I have seen Wuhan and Italy. I don’t know, I don’t know, how much COVID we are going to get. I don’t know how many are going to die. I do know I can do nothing about it. Not a thing.
Feeling pretty helpless, I start driving back home, and that is when I break down, and tears start coming down uncontrollably.
I’m home, I call out to my husband, to our daughter, “Stay away from me please,” and jump in the shower and continue to weep alone.
I WANT to feel better. So I start thinking of the “feel good” things said to me during the day. Like the son, I call. His mom is under my care. He can’t come to see her, COVID times! And so I call him every day and give him the ups and the downs, and today is not such a good day for his mom. And as worried as HE is for his mom, he says, “Thank you for all you do!” And, “Bless your kind heart!”
“Bless your kind heart,” I say these words out loud 5 times, as if I’m meditating, as if it’s gonna help me “feel better,” as if it’s gonna help me “find my silver lining,” but it doesn’t, and I wonder if I ever will find it? And I realize this is it! This is what they call burnout!
Next day, I am back in the hospital, feeling exactly like a chicken! And I realize I haven’t called my folks for a couple of days now, my momma, my daddy, they are in their 80s, they are cooped up in an apartment in India, in this town rampant with COVID, kind of like the Wuhan of India. So I call, and I say, “Momma, I wanna come see you, it’s been over a year!” and then, you know, I should ask, I live far far far away. I AM the oldest daughter, so I should ask, “How are YOU Momma; how is your knee; how is that neuropathy in your legs; CAN YOU WALK? And how are you managing?” But instead, what comes out of this baby’s mouth is, “I’m scared Momma, I AM so so scared!” And my Momma goes, “You are strong, you are brave, you are my hero! And, you are needed there, you don’t come, you don’t come see us right now!”
And, with those trembling words of my momma, I know I’m no chicken, I know, I am a hero in my momma’s eyes! And if that’s not a help to me, you tell me what will?
Swapna Deshpande is an internal medicine physician.
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