My friends ask me how I’m doing. The short answer is always, “We’re OK.” But the real answer is much longer.
I feel a lot of anxiety these days. It’s always there, sometimes with more intensity than others. But a constant, ever-present, lurking beneath our routine.
Like everyone else, sheltering in place is a component of it. There are the combined aspects of keeping my four children entertained, keeping them from fighting, keeping them fed and clean, keeping our space organized. Then add to that, I am the IT department as well as a preschool teacher and a pre-calculus math tutor.
Then there are the emails. The one that says your ER shifts have been cut. Volumes are low as everyone has listened and stayed at home. And then my physician husband’s salary is cut by a third. Why? Elective procedures and studies have all been postponed.
And then there’s work. Countless emails daily from both hospital groups I’m contracted with. Who are we testing today? How and where are we triaging our ER patients? How many cases do we have in our city? Country? What protective gear (PPE) do we have, and how are we rationing it?
Now they tell us, there’s only one N95 mask and one surgical mask per shift. These are masks that are disposable, designed for one provider to wear for each patient. It’s to protect patients from getting each other’s illnesses. We aren’t testing, so we can’t be sure everyone has COVID-19. What if it’s the flu or a different coronavirus? We don’t know, so we should be using different masks.
But there aren’t enough. Maybe enough for the short term, but not enough for the marathon we see ahead. Everyone is worried about what is to come. The unseeable, unspeakable possibility that we will be overwhelmed with COVID-19.
And so we are asked to conserve. And in so doing, I worry about bringing the dreaded illness into my home, to my family, to my children. I have added a lengthy decontamination protocol to my routine coming home from my ER shifts. Everything gets wiped down, washed, scrubbed.
And then there’s keeping up with the news, most of it dismal as we watch the world succumb to COVID-19. One image without fail always heightens my anxiety to the point of fear: the refrigerator cars outside of NYC hospitals to hold the bodies of the dead.
So now I lay awake most nights worrying, questioning. Becoming a doctor was always a given. Taking care of the injured and the sick, especially children, is what I love to do. I never doubted it was my place in the world. Should I stay home with my kids and ignore those that might need me at the hospital? Or should I go to work and possibly contract the virus and bring it home?
These days I wonder what it might cost me to help others. It’s no longer just a few hours away from my family, my own kids. Especially in light of our PPE conservation, I worry if I become sick, how will my husband work and take care of the kids? What if we both are sick? Who will be with the children while we are unable? The grandparents? No, they’re too high risk. Our siblings? They live in other cities and have their own children to take care of. Then who? And what of that worst-case scenario? Who will raise my children if we both lay victim to COVID-19?
And so now I’ve added writing a will and living trust to my growing list of things to do.
How are we doing? The short answer is we’re OK.
Jill Jaimes is an emergency physician.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com