I have been feeling as if, so far, my COVID-19 experience has been a fortunate one. I am working hard, but I am with a great team and, so far, we have not had any of our colleagues become ill with the virus. So far, my family has been well.
Today I spoke with a friend who is a family doctor in Newark in the tri-state area around New York City. She has had three physician colleagues die of COVID-19 and nine patients!
She is still working herself, seeing patients and working after hours shifts for her group. I listened to her express her grief, looking out the window of my office. The crabapple tree was in full fuschia-coloured bloom. As the neon pink flowers floated to the ground, I heard her anguish: the flowers like the tears flowing down her already damp cheeks.
She has been working almost eleven weeks with only one day off per week. When I wondered how she could still manage this, given how exhausted she must be, she asked me, “How can I possibly leave when the people who have to replace me will have to add on another shift?”
I didn’t have an answer for that question.
In trying to describe for me how exhausted she was, she asked me if I had ever noticed how often there is a chart posted in front of a Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) station that demonstrates how to properly put on and take off (don and doff, to use the medical jargon) PPE. As I recalled these charts, she said,” And you know how you always wonder, after a few times, who needs these charts?” I recalled having exactly that thought and I wondered where she was leading.
“Well,” she said, “when you’re putting on the 50th set of PPE for the day, dehydrated and hungry but feeling too nauseous to eat, you focus on the chart because, in that moment, you can no longer put on that equipment properly any more than you can just stand there.”
So far, my COVID-19 experience has been fortunate.
(I have been lucky enough to only need a mask for most of my work with patients.)