A day in the life of a physician during the pandemic

Alarm clock. Wake up. Groggy. Haven’t slept well in weeks.

Work out. Pilates. Run. Meditate.

Routine. I think it helps.

Coffee. Shower. Eat something. Peanut butter on an English muffin.

Get dressed. Old clothes, the same clothes. Laundry is done every day now.

Wallet. ID. Glasses. Keys. Cell phone. All wiped down the night before.

Shoes in the garage. Won’t ever bring this pair in the house again.

Drive to work. Blue skies. Few clouds. Too many cars on the road.

Sanitize my hands. Put my mask on. Sanitize again.

At the hospital. Daily screening. Temperature check.

How do you answer the question, “Have you been exposed to COVID-19?” Testing in Wisconsin is only for the sickest. There’s no contact tracing yet. I work here, I answer. No, I have no symptoms.

Go through too many doors I have to touch to open. Get to my office.

Sanitize my hands again. Hang up my outdoor mask after my office door is closed.

Change into scrubs. Put on my surgical cap. Easier to wear a mask with a cap.

Sanitize my hands again. Put on my duckbill mask. Sanitize again. Replace my glasses on my face and add my face shield. Sanitize my hands again.

Add to my badge my profile card, so patients can see what I look like.

Sanitize my hands again.

Walk to the elevator. Wonder why I have to touch so many buttons. Wish I didn’t have to.

Get off on the floor. It’s quiet. My patients are surgical patients. We aren’t doing elective surgery. Is cancer elective? I don’t know anymore.

Walk down the hall. Look at the carts. Look at the signs on the doors. Contact precautions. Airborne precautions. Aersolized procedure precautions. These are common for infections like MRSA, C. Diff., tuberculosis. COVID? Makes me wonder.

They aren’t my patients. I don’t know what they have. I can only imagine.

Walk into my patient’s room. Wash my hands.

My mask is uncomfortable. I’m hot. I talk to my patient, I joke, I try to make them laugh. Try so hard to make this routine.

It’s not. I’m not fooling anyone.

There are no visitors.

Remember, don’t touch. Yourself. Or the patient.

Wash your hands.

Go to the computer. Chart. Sanitize your hands again.

Talk to the nurses. The CNAs. Smile, though they can’t see.

Back to the elevator. Touching buttons again.

Back to my office. Sanitize my hands. Take off my shield, my glasses. Wipe the shield with alcohol. Take off my mask, trying not to touch too much, or break the straps. Place it in the paper bag. Sanitize my hands again.

End of the day. Change my clothes. Sanitize my hands. Put on my outside mask. Grab a wipe to wipe down what I’ll touch in my car.

Say goodbye to the staff at the door. I’ll see them again tomorrow.

Get back to my car. Wipe down door handles, steering wheel, everything I touch. Keys. Phone. Badge. I’ll do it again when I get home.

Drive home.

Shoes off in the garage. Grab a wipe again. Keys, phone, badge, wallet, glasses, cell phone all wiped down. Clothes off immediately inside the door. Into the washer. Keep wiping.

Run to my bedroom. Do not kiss my husband. Yet.

Wipe down door handles, light switches, all the things I touch on the way to the shower. Wipes are in short supply.

Shower. Wash hair. Face. Body. Again.

Dry off. More lotion. Skin is dry. Hair always still wet, in a ponytail or bun.

Find my husband, kiss him hello.

Always wondering if today is the day I was exposed.

For all of that, my risk of exposure right now pales in comparison to my ER colleagues, my ICU colleagues, and the many nurses, CNAs, techs, environmental services, dietary staff that go in and out of numerous rooms all day long.

Erin E. Stevens is a gynecology-oncology physician.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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