by Dr. Ritu Nahar, MD, internal medicine resident physician in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, written for COVID-19: Inside the Global Epicenter: Personal Accounts from NYC Frontline Healthcare Providers by Krutika Parasar Raulkar, MD Prior to starting the COVID service, I was eating and drinking fear and anxiety — there were wakeless nights and internet research, scrutinizing countless emails taking notes on the latest Jefferson COVID guidelines. I was alternating between feeling like a strong and resilient knight …
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.
When do you leap into the unknown and venture into the uncomfortable? Is it after methodical deliberation or is it much more abrupt, emboldened by a critical decision? Perhaps it is a deep drive within you, one that propels you forward in a way in which you cannot look back.
Earlier in February of this year, before COVID-19’s onslaught in London, UK, I was covering service on a respiratory ward when a young medical student made herself known to the physician’s office. “Could I borrow your stethoscope? I’m here to practice my respiratory examinations.”
I didn’t start out thinking I was going to be a physician. I was going to be an actor. I committed myself to a life of emotional expression, artistic fulfillment and likely poverty, and pursued an undergraduate conservatory degree in theater, which I quickly found is one of the most nebulous forms of education one can obtain.
I am a 25-year-old resident physician of anesthesiology /
My sister and I are bonded by genetics, anatomy and biology /
I am a senior in high school at age 18. / My sister and I are bonded by love and everything in between.
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.