COVID-19 and the physician’s oath

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COVID-19 started to really hit home this week. I hadn’t been aware of its severity because, honestly, I was too busy balancing residency, being a husband, and a father to keep up to date on the daily news.  Now it’s unavoidable with school closures, travel restrictions, and limited grocery store stock.  With worried texts and phone calls, my family and friends wanted to know any updates and if coronavirus was spreading here.  They wanted to know how close coronavirus was to home-and it’s fairly close now.

Coronavirus — not the rapidly changing, pandemic creating variation COVID-19 — but the greater category of coronavirus is a familiar one in the world of pediatrics. For us, it’s just another variation of the common cold, which can be improved with the tried and true Vicks Vaporub. Despite everything I had learned from the Red Book about coronavirus and its high rate of survivability, as a first-time father with a 6-month-old at home and a human with a beating heart, it’s easy to have the same fears that most people have about coronavirus.

Anytime I hear about a patient traveling or having lower respiratory symptoms that seemed a bit more severe than usual, there is a percentage in the back of my head that’s worried about coronavirus.  And of course, I worry that I could take this home to people that I love and cause them to become sick.

Therefore …

It did not matter that I was surrounded by sick children coughing, sneezing, and drooling on me. It did not matter that I was working 60 to 80 hours a week in 2 separate hospitals.  It did not matter that while friends and family were working more from home or were furloughed but I was expected to continue working the same long hours and sometimes even more so because of the high demand for healthcare currently.

It did not matter that we had to reuse isolation masks when seeing sick patients because people were running out and hoarding masks from Costco, Walmart, or anywhere they could get it.  It did not matter that when I went to the groceries to pick up salad packs for my wife’s lunch and produce for the few dinners a week we had time to cook, I had to wait in line for 30+ minutes because people were bulk buying bottled water, toilet paper, and baby wipes.

Therefore …

It did not matter that I often barely saw my son awake since I often would leave while he was either still asleep, and I would get home after he went to bed.

It did not matter that my wife was shouldering much of the child-rearing during my busier months and we barely got to sit to have dinner together, let alone do the things we enjoyed as a couple.  I kept coming to work.

While I still have concerns, and I think we all should have some level of concern to keep ourselves and each other safe, acting out of fear and panic does not help at all.  Because when I sit down and really think about why I continued to work in these scary conditions, both during this outbreak and throughout residency, it is because there are many people in need, and I have the ability to care for them in a way that not many people can.  We all have to contribute however we can, and I hope that my example can encourage people to also contribute in a disciplined, kind, helpful, and reasonable manner and reduce the fear, chaos, and panic that has been gripping our world.

Vincent-Arthur Bacay is a pediatrician.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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