When the pandemic became real to this physician

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Everything feels like it’s happening out of a movie, mostly because we’ve all seen it before. Pandemic, Outbreak, even World War Z. It has never felt real, until it became real.

It became real when all of my friends from my pediatrics residency in New York became adult doctors, figuring out how to ventilate a 65 year old on the fly. It became real when my best friend and co-chief comes back from work exhausted, emotionally and mentally, and physically, after wearing her PPE for the entirety of her shift, losing numerous patients to this virus in a single day. It became real when my friends now have worked with other co-workers that are fighting the virus themselves, admitted into the hospital, and battling for their lives, some unsuccessfully. It became real when numbers I don’t know are calling me to come and help in hospitals, knowing I still have my New York medical license.

Because of the circumstances I’m in, I’m unable to help at the front lines in the war. I have to stay put, to continue what I’m doing. My hospital is a children’s hospital, where few are intensely affected by this pandemic. Part of it makes me feel guilty, feeling useless while patients are dying, while my colleagues are risking everything as the duty of a physician that’s embedded in our hearts. Part of me knows that there are still patients here that need to be seen, and that putting myself in the fire puts those I love around me at risk for being burned. Part of me feels like the inevitable is coming here anyways, and I’ll be ready to face the battles when they come here. And the sentiments flip at any given moment.

Then there’s the issue of being Asian-American at this time, when there’s a stigma of the “Chinese virus.” I continue to see people attacked just by their appearance. Thankfully, I have not experienced this kind of racism, but it breaks my heart to see the innocent get attacked, sometimes fatally, just by the ignorance clouded in this pandemic. My cousin lives in New York, close to where families are getting brutally wounded. I obsessively scan the news and text, just to make sure everyone I know and love is OK.

What is reassuring is that nothing is permanent. This will also pass. Left in its wake will hopefully be its rainbow. It has already made human connection and ties stronger. It has made neighbors lend a hand. It has made communities rise to the occasion. It has made the environment sigh with relief. It has made us all more intentional and thoughtful. And that hope makes me get up out of bed and face this world, with my PPE on, ready to see some children who still need my help.

Margaret Mou is a pediatrician.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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