Being “essential” has been overwhelming

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In July 2020, we became essential workers. We threw on our scrubs, put our stethoscopes around our necks, and walked to work for our first day as pediatricians.

Six months later, I have had a moment to reflect on what it has meant to be “essential.” I have come to realize that the simple act of learning from and taking care of our patients has been essential. “Being essential” has looked like running into our sick patients’ room every 30 minutes to exam their abdomens – or their hearts, or their lungs. It has looked like knowing what to do when a patient with sickle cell disease spikes a fever, or when a patient arrives in DKA, or when a patient is experiencing a behavioral health crisis. It has looked like learning to trust ourselves – and perhaps more importantly, being unafraid to ask for help.

Being “essential” has been disorienting. It has looked like grieving racial injustice and bowing our heads to reaffirm that Black Lives Matter. It has looked like flashing QR codes on our ID badges encouraging our patients to vote – and glimpsing election results on their television screens. It has looked like shaking our heads in collective disbelief as we watched images of a burning Capitol building flash across those same screens.

Being “essential” has been overwhelming.

At times, we have wondered if we are truly even “essential.” As our brave colleagues in adult medicine have fought COVID 19 intensely in their patient population and as we have drowned in the paperwork and phone calls that make up the lives of newly-minted doctors, there have been moments where we have doubted our impact.

Yet, over the past six months, we have cared for our patients as they lost friends and family members. We have kept them (and their families) safe as a raging pandemic wreaked havoc on their mental health. We have welcomed babies into the world and navigated chronic care. We have immunized our patients and prescribed them birth control. We have delivered bad news and rejoiced in good news. We have treated seizures, respiratory distress, and septic shock. We have babbled with our two month olds, played trucks with our two year olds, and set goals with our twenty year olds. Yes, the shape of pediatrics has shifted tremendously, but we are learning what it means to be pediatricians.

We have cared for each other too. We have trudged into the hospital on sunny days, on dark days, and on holidays. We have supported each other during long months away from our families. We have celebrated our successes. We have grieved our personal and collective losses together.

Most importantly, we have continued to show up. Perhaps what I believe most fervently after the past six months is that the simple act of persistence is the strongest display of power. There is an odd comfort in being “essential” – and it now brings me peace that come what may, we will still throw on our scrubs, we will put our stethoscopes around our necks, and we will walk to work. Even six months later.

Prerana Chatty is a pediatric resident and can be reached on Twitter @preranachatty.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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