No one had told her how difficult the fight after COVID would be. Of course, few in her community had lived to tell the tale. And then again, precious few people had expected her to survive at the ripe old age of 86.
My husband Tom isn’t afraid of anything; strapping on a bulletproof vest every day for work will do that to a man. Tom wasn’t scared until I couldn’t breathe.
In the first two months of 2020, I watched with alarm as a cordon sanitaire descended on Wuhan. I lived there as an anthropologist completing my research on Chinese medicine in 2017. Friends from Wuhan — most of them doctors — were suddenly describing scenes out of a dystopian nightmare.
When the COVID-19 alarms were raised, I got ready for battle against the virus the world was fighting, only to later feel cut off from “the cause” as my efforts to volunteer outside of my daily work were denied time and again. Some might call it luck, but for me, it felt isolating.
When I found out I was going to be deployed to treat patients with COVID, I dealt with a lot of existential dread. I remember feeling like I was leaving medicine behind when I matched to a psychiatry residency, and again after I finished the medicine portion of my intern year.
As I check in on my patients each morning, I wonder if some will unexpectedly decompensate and die over the coming weeks. I think about myself and my co-residents who are in the hospital all day swabbing patients for COVID-19 without adequate personal protective equipment. Many of my co-residents are on home isolation as a result of this exposure, waiting for their test results and praying that our government will step up and fund more mask production, or civilians will return the N95s they’ve hoarded, or the set of a TV medical drama will donate their props to us.
Earlier last week, one patient had been referred in from their family physician, and the onsite senior resident, Adam, had been the doctor to assess them. Symptoms were vague — generally unwell, off food, bit of a cough, possible headache. Viral swabs were taken, because pretty much anyone that had lately walked through the hospital door with even a suspicion of sepsis now had samples sent off.
As an internal medicine resident working at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan, COVID-19 has taken over our workroom conversations as the number of new cases enters exponential growth. As an anthropologist who lived in Wuhan for a year and has regularly kept in touch with physicians there since the city was placed under lockdown on January 23, 2020, COVID-19 has proved to be an unprecedented crisis.
As a program director, I am worried about my trainees who are already challenged with the usual stressors of graduate medical education (GME). This new illness is threatening to upend and disrupt our program in ways that I cannot even imagine, and therefore cannot plan for.
The other day at work, there were a few employees that were unnecessarily spreading panic on a message board by comparing the novel coronavirus COVID-19 to the infections mentioned in Jared Diamond’s book Guns, Germs and Steel — one commenter wrote that “every once in a while in history an infection comes along like this.”