There’s an intruder in our relationship, and her name is COVID. Every night I come home, and she’s lurking around the corner on an Amazon box, in the crevice of my couch perhaps, or her scent is lingering on my husband’s scrubs. A physician-physician marriage is hard enough, but when put under the microscope of a life-threatening pandemic, well, it is disjointed to say the least.
My husband is an orthopedic surgeon. For those in the physician community, enough said. I am an internist in private practice who sees patients in the hospital, nursing home, and the office. As I go to work in the hospital with not enough protective equipment available, I don my own mask. This prompts an email complaint and mandate to wear masks only in patient rooms. Is the staff of the hospital, myself included, not an asymptomatic carrier? What is the purpose of social distancing if when I go to work everyone is not? People are sharing keyboards, touching their eye goo, and not keeping a 6-foot distance.
Dual physician marriages are difficult enough under normal circumstances—cue trespasser Armageddon to obliterate it to smithereens. Now I have heard of these couples encaged at home forced to get along and home school their children. That, of course, is a whole different beast. I feel for you; I really do. Let me tell you, though, the only place I feel safe is home.
For work, I go into the lion’s den without much protection. I’m utterly paranoid about what I have touched and not touched. Did I touch a piece of paper that could have it? Did the physical therapist who reported a low heart rate in a hospice patient a couple of feet away from me have it? I wear a mask and people are alarmed. That’s alarming? The mask is alarming? Not the pandemic that is taking over our world?
One of my colleagues was kicked out of a skilled nursing facility for wearing one. I am stuck in my own imagined safety perimeter box and then a metaphorical box around that which forbids me from acting like we have a crisis on our hands. This, as you can imagine, makes for an interesting inner dialogue. I am on edge all day. I cry every day before I go to work, and sometimes after I return.
The sanitization protocol I have developed for my house is single-handedly putting my marriage to its greatest test. My husband touches an envelope in our mail pile. “You have to wash your hands immediately,” I exclaim! Let’s just say he is rather irritated with me. I’ll divulge that he does not have the best coping skills at baseline, probably due to his only child, Indian upbringing. Add COVID to the mix, and it doesn’t make for a pretty picture. My blabbing about the virus has scared him to attempting to maintain sterility at work and the grocery store. So, as you can imagine, he too, is living in a box inside a box; that makes for a tense household.
My two-year-old is acting out more these days, yelling and screaming more. I can only guess this is partially the terrible twos and partially absorbing the ambiance we are unintentionally creating. Consequently, I start to bash myself as a less than parent, quickly followed by an attempt to show myself a grain of compassion. This is reality. Things aren’t always happy and sunny. He needs to understand that. Thus, a partially morose ambiance may be OK.
I wake up each day and face only that day. I can’t think about the day before when a patient was coughing in my face or the day after when I might contract the illness and infect my family. It is scary out there, and all I really want to do is cozy up in my pajamas and sit in my office working from home. But I can’t do that. I would love to tell you that I’m a hero and want to save the world. I don’t. I want to live. I don’t want to risk my life to keep my job, but I can’t afford to lose it. It’s a predicament. This too shall pass, and I hope I am there to see it.
The author is an anonymous physician.
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