Love in the time of coronavirus

“The weak would never enter the kingdom of love.”
― Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera

 As the medical community grapples to come up with an appropriate response and protect our patients from this latest pandemic, I cannot help but wonder how the mighty COVID-19, measuring all of 0.1 microns has come to affect us doctors on an individual level.

Unlike the high acuity inpatient setting, clinics are more easygoing and give us an opportunity to really get to know our patients and germinate a relationship that strengthens over time. These past few days, many clinic encounters have begun with an elbow bump or my personal favorite, the “namaste” instead of the formal introductory handshake or a warm hug for an old friend.

Despite the precautions we take, the flip side of this most rewarding métier is that we work in environments exposing us to infection. For how many times have we joked about MRSA colonizing our nares? Given current trends, it seems likely that a large number of us will encounter patients positive for the virus. Most of us will shrug it off, but for those with infants with immature immunities at home, the risk is more ominous. We wait to return to our little loved ones, but only after washing our hands and sanitizing our phones.

Our love of our field and need to stay up to date with the deluge of medical advances take us to conferences that represent the latest and best of the science. We work our schedules around and make travel plans months in advance. March heralds the beginning of conference season, yet what better way to get an infection than share a ventilation system with thousands of other doctors who’ve been on a plane? Thus intelligently, if not with much disappointment, many such gatherings are being called off. Some hospitals have even suspended smaller gatherings such as grand rounds to decrease the risk of transmission.

Trainees like myself travel great distances from home in pursuit of higher edification. Yet the coronavirus makes us worry about the aged family we leave behind – parents and grandparents. A WhatsApp message ensuring they’ve stocked up on acetaminophen, toilet paper and canned soup (low sodium, of course) the only assuage to our anguish.

The rigors of medicine often demand sacrifice, sometimes in the form of long-distance relationships. Residents and fellows work overtime and trade shifts in chess-like strategy to ensure a “golden weekend” with their significant other. Now with travel being high risk, golden weekends will likely be swapped for Facetime dinner dates.

Today the malefactor may be COVID-19; the only certitude is that the future will bring another.  And yet, despite the perils that may exist, we toil on, for the sake of our patients and to satisfy the seraphic thirst of our higher calling. As in the end, love conquers all.

Mrinali Shetty and Yuvraj Chowdhury are cardiology fellows. They can be reached on Twitter @YChowdhuryMD and @MrinShettyMD, respectively.

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