As I walked home from work today, there are signs in the neighbourhood that people are beginning to take physical distancing for granted. Four weeks have gone by and if no one in their family is sick, then people are beginning to let down their guard, it seems to me.
I cannot let down my guard.
Today at work, I put on Personal Protective Equipment for the first time in order to meet with patients to complete their admission to hospital. There are pictures in the media of the doctors and nurses who do this all the time. They do this deliberately but quickly. I do this deliberately, but not yet quickly. I do not – thank goodness – have the practice they do…yet.
My team and I have no practice – to practice, we would have to waste equipment and we won’t do that. Equipment wasted is not justifiable when every mask and face shield is needed.
Instead, we have watched videos together and we don and doff our equipment in real time, when there is a patient to see.
I put on the equipment: wash my hands, put on a gown, a mask and a face shield and then gloves. My colleagues watch me and guide me so that I do this correctly. Within a day, we won’t need to do this, but now we do. For ourselves, for our families, for our patients – for you.
It is difficult to learn something when you’re anxious, and I am anxious. I don’t want to get sick, and COVID-19 is a terrible disease. I don’t want my husband or children or patients or anyone to get sick. As I finish with gloves, I catch the nurse’s eye and we hold each other’s gaze. With a nod, we remind each other to be careful.
All of this takes one minute – one very long minute. I turn to the patient – when I realize he cannot see me smiling, I say, “Welcome, you can’t see me smiling, but I am. How are you doing?”
A laugh breaks the tension to begin an assessment.
As the day sloughs off me on the walk home, there are people chatting and kids skateboarding in the neighbourhood. I can feel the tension mount in me again and I walk out into the street to give them a wide berth. They pay no mind and I am still tense.
I cannot even imagine how ER and ICU doctors and nurses are managing these interactions. They are much closer to these risks than I am, and I am incredulous, and worried.
Please. Please don’t let your guard down.
I wish everyone would JUST STAY HOME.
(This is a picture of my house – the side deck – on a beautiful summer day. You can see that I have a privileged existence, and so do all my neighbours. I have been spending all my time when I am not in the hospital in my house. As I said yesterday, other than the trip to and from work, I have gone on one walk – yesterday, in the rain, when no one was out. It would be no hardship to stay home in this beautiful neighbourhood. Please stay home.)