As I sit through another meeting discussing our facility’s preparedness for COVID-19, my mind circles back to my infant at home. Husband and I are both frontline physicians, fully aware we may need to take on more shifts and responsibilities. Do I have a COVID-19 preparedness plan for my family? What will I do if our baby’s caretaker doesn’t want to expose herself to our ‘high-risk’ home? Why isn’t anyone in these meetings discussing child-care options?
I go on to the hospital for rounds with the team, which includes a pregnant resident. When we get to the COVID unit, I ask her to stay out. She didn’t ask for this favor. Surely, she must worry about her exposure and long-term consequences for her unborn baby. Unfortunately, residency training, with all its rigidity, doesn’t leave her with many options. I need to bring this up in our next faculty meeting.
After lunch, I conduct my scheduled telehealth visits. My patients tell me the pandemic and the confinement to their homes is causing anxiety. I advise them on relaxation techniques and titrate their medications as needed. In between patients, my mind wanders. These days, I can’t ignore the pangs of panic that arise every time my baby coughs. I can’t quarantine from an 8-month old, who is exploring her senses and tries to use my fingers as a pacifier. The reports of a multi-system inflammatory syndrome in children are suddenly hitting too close to home. My phone beeps with a text from my husband, a hospitalist, about an outbreak at a local nursing home.
“We have to be prepared for a potential surge,” he says. I am thankful for the PPE we are provided every day, and pray it is protecting him. I admire his dedication to patients and our community, but I sometimes wish we could take time off and be safe within the confines of our home. It is a terrible feeling to know that the biggest threat to my child’s safety is her parents. I can feel my emotional resilience crumbling; I should take my own advice about relaxation.
Our small residency program always felt like one big family. Our office doors were always wide open, and group lunches were a common sight. There is an eerie silence now, with shut doors and hushed voices behind masks. We check-in with each other, but via emails and texts. We’re six feet apart, but might as well be on different planets. I should remind my colleagues and residents that I’m here if they ever need to talk.
I know I am not alone in my thoughts; I am just echoing sentiments of other female physicians. We are mothers, wives, patient advocates, and educators. And we’re all suddenly finding ourselves in unchartered waters. In weathering this pandemic, I’ve taken time to reflect. I wish I could say I emerged from this introspection having conquered all my fears. Instead, I have discovered the immense strength it takes to be vulnerable. I can admit I do not have all the answers, and the uncertainty of tomorrow gnaws at me. I also know that despite the upheaval, I wouldn’t trade my job for anything in the world.
Shweta Akhouri is a family physician.
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