It feels odd to have family members in the hospital regularly again. My patient’s wife approaches cautiously; for a second I pretend not to see her. She looks like she wants to talk and I’m afraid she wants good news I can’t give, promises I can’t make, and time I don’t feel like I have. She wants time to tell me her loved one’s stories.
Her grip on my hand is tight. Almost as tight as the elastic on the oxygen mask stretched across her face, digging furrows into her thin, sallow skin.
I am a first-generation Chinese American. And, amidst the tapestry of threads that form my identity (mother, wife, daughter, woman, doctor), it is the piece I have often prized the least.
Graduation gown: shiny, matching cap / She looks up / With aspirations
“Every one of these patients should terrify you,” the fellow said. I thought he was just being dramatic.
Thinking back to January 2020, I recalled the whispers throughout the hospital of the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the United States, mere minutes from my home institution. Aside from my perspective as a pediatrician, I was also forced to confront my own anxieties regarding exposure to this virus as an adult living with repaired congenital heart disease.
On the morning of January 6, I awoke ecstatic to the news of Reverend Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff’s predicted wins in the Georgia run-off elections. To be frank, I have become hesitant to hope while inured by the near-daily attacks on civil rights by the Trump administration via executive orders and federal policies. Over the past four years, I witnessed with pride — but also fear — as community activists tirelessly organized to combat racist policies.
In my home city of Washington, D.C., citizens have taken the changes brought on by COVID-19 very seriously; social distancing, masking and frequent hand hygiene are now routine. These days, I am startled when I see the bottom half of someone’s face out in public. Our homes have become our sanctuaries. In the hospital, however, much of our work continues unabated. Orders are written, notes are signed, lab work is drawn, imaging is performed. Housestaff are on the front lines with nurses, respiratory therapists and patient care technicians taking care of the sickest patients day-in, day-out.
Recently, several attending physicians sparked controversy on Twitter by implying that low-income medical students or trainees should not pursue careers in medicine. While these tweets have since been deleted, the systemic injustices that they echo still ring in the highest levels of modern medical education. As a medical trainee from an impoverished household, I have spent almost my entire post-secondary education and medical training as part of an invisible demographic.
My fingers tense. Frozen not of my own accord. I want to do this, but I can’t. I need to do this, yet the anxiety grips at my mind and throat, stalling what should be an easy decision. As a Black, gay medical student in my fourth year, what I’m about to do has so many repercussions and permutations. So much so that I feel stuck, unable to be decisive when decisiveness is necessary.
Happy New Year from all of us at in-House! We are proud to announce the in-House Top 12 of 2020, our 12 most-read articles of 2020. Thank you for your readership over the past year and for your ongoing support of our publication, the premier online peer-reviewed publication for residents and fellows.
I have finally had enough. As a health care provider, COVID-19 brought about a lot of uncertainty and many changes in preparation for what might unfold. But over the last few months, the social unrest surrounding police brutality and the disproportionate occurrence of these cases towards people of color has added to my physical exhaustion by conflating it with both emotional and mental fatigue. After 32 years of tolerating systemic racism, it is finally my turn to say something.