How small acts of kindness can inspire others during the pandemic

When the pandemic hit New York, I was lucky to have enough PPE to prepare myself, and my staff, for what was to come. After the 2014 Ebola scare, I stocked up on N95 masks, gowns, gloves, and face shields; I knew that should anything with even the slightest semblance to that crisis occur once more, I needed to be prepared. When the owner of Acutis Labs informed me that he could supply test kits for my practice, I readily accepted his offer. I joined a physician group on Facebook where its members shared ideas on how to prepare for and learn from this virus.

Sometime after my arrival in this group, I noticed how a large number of physicians were being refused COVID-19 testing by their institutions – despite being obviously symptomatic. At this moment, I knew I needed to provide aid to my colleagues and fellow physicians.  I offered my services to them and any health care worker affected by this pandemic, and do what their institutions should have done from the start: test their workers. The ability to offer my medical colleagues a testing site and provide them with monitoring during their illness is incredibly gratifying; it gives a sense of satisfaction like no other.

However, I wanted to give more to my fellow physicians. As medical professionals, we constantly sacrifice our own safety in order to care for others, though many don’t recognize that we too are in need of care. I contemplated ways to provide aid before settling on a course of action.

Previously, I had heard of the scarcity of PPE health care workers at Elmhurst Hospital had to sustain themselves with. Elmhurst Hospital, a city hospital, is in the epicenter of this pandemic, yet lacks the equipment necessary to deal with a crisis of this magnitude. I asked my office manager, an incredibly talented and creative woman, if she could somehow create homemade face shields to give to the hospital workers. She rose to the challenge. The next day, she arrived at our office with a handful of masks. I posted her creation on my Facebook page and asked my followers to replicate her work. Many complied, and I had dozens ready to be distributed. I contacted Elmhurst Hospital and spoke to an ER intern, asking him if I could donate our homemade masks. He excitedly accepted, though when prompted, he explained the lack of food access those working twelve to fourteen-hour shifts had.

This conversation began my next project. The day following my call with the ER intern I spoke with a supervisor at my local BJ’s, who offered to give me a $100 certificate – the money of which would be used to purchase food for the Elmhurst workers. I readily accepted, using this gift card and my own money to buy as many non-perishable food items as the trunk of my car could fit. I filled my SUV with nutrition bars, clementines, apples, drinks, and cookies. Soon afterward, I contacted the intern and asked him to meet me at the lobby and to bring a cart with him. The moment he saw me, pure joy flooded his eyes. This moment truly revealed how much a small act of kindness could boost the morale of those in need.

After this first drop off, I came to a conclusion: I would continue to make food deliveries for the interns and residents at these poor city hospitals. These interns and residents had the misfortune of training during one of the hardest times of modern-day health care; the least I could do was provide them with the food their institutions sadly could not. I posted my project on Facebook, and without prompt, the Muslim community of Long Island readily offered to donate money to my project.

Almost three weeks later, I can proudly say that I have been able to deliver hundreds of dollars worth of food to Nassau University Medical Center, Jamaica Hospital, NYP-Queens Hospital, Downstate Hospital, Bellevue Hospital, and once more to Elmhurst Hospital.

At each hospital drop off, I see the happiness and gratitude in the masked faces of the interns and residents. Their eyes reveal their exhaustion, though their thankfulness shows the power my help carries.

I am writing this story to inspire others to engage in small acts of kindness, just as I have. During this pandemic, hospitals throughout New York have been overwhelmed with COVID+ patients. Although many restaurants have donated full meals to their local health care facilities, the lack of off time interns, residents, and physicians have throughout their shift prevents them from taking a break to enjoy whatever has been donated. However, a small protein bar or a juicy apple can be eaten while on the go; donations of snacks such as these go a long way.

Together, health care workers and civilians alike will fight to conquer this pandemic, and we will emerge from this crisis stronger than we had entered. But I ask you this: Years from now, when looking back at this time, what will you be reminded of? I, for one, would much rather recall the joy I brought those in need than the fear and suffering of those around me. I’m sure you would prefer the same.

Sonia Qadir is an internal medicine physician. 

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