It’s the high five I’m unable to give to that five-year-old patient after I check his red throat. It’s the song I can’t sing while I look into a toddler’s ears as they cling to their momma’s neck. It’s the hug I can’t give the mom who just lost her father to cancer two weeks ago. These are the things I’ve missed over the last few weeks. This is the human factor missing during my telemed visits. It is a way for us to help our patients and still practice the art of medicine. It all just feels different. It’s like learning a new art in an effort to connect. While I welcome seeing my little patients in their own environment, bringing me their favorite toy and waving at me because I am “in their computer,” I still wish it was a face to face visit. Every. Time.
My essay for my entry into residency was about the human spirit. I thought then that I knew what that was, and I did to a certain degree, but now it’s meaning has deepened some. Times like this are difficult. Change is difficult. But what it gives us as physicians is an appreciation for what we had before. Appreciation for what it means to focus on patient care first as we struggle to fade out the distractions of this virus, the endless articles, the constant worry for those we love. We step into our cars each morning and think, “Is today the day?” We open our eyes from another fragmented night of sleep and think, “Oh. It is real.” We place our contaminated shoes into a bucket in the garage, spray them down with disinfectant, tightly seal the top, and wonder, “How many more times will I have to do this?”
Then, there are our children. I have always looked forward to my kids exploding out of the garage door when I arrive home from work. When they were little, I would pull in, and by the time I turned off the car, four screaming kids would bust out of the house, with and without clothes on, yelling, “Mommy! You came back!”
One would always trip over another as they ran to be the first one to reach me. Now? They still run towards me, but I meet them with, “Hi guys! Stay away. Wait until mommy changes and showers. Don’t touch me yet. Don’t touch my stuff.”
They have adjusted quite well to having two distracted parents still working in health care. We have all enjoyed more time together, even with this crisis hanging above. The challenge for me has been shielding them. Once every few days, one of the older kids has a moment. If they hear us talking about the virus, I’ll hear that panicked voice saying, “What does that mean? Is that bad?”
Or at bedtime, one will cry and list all of the things that they are missing: friends, vacations, activities, us when we leave for work. Our responsibility to shield them becomes greater as we try to teach them how to focus on the positives: family time, sleeping late, more fresh air. But the load is heavy. We can’t answer them when they ask how much longer. We can’t lie. We can’t really explain why we don’t know. Then it’s our time to distract them, bake another batch of biscotti, and move on with the day. For today will repeat itself tomorrow.
Lauretta Stombaugh is a pediatrician.
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