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.
A quiet, frail, emaciated gentleman in his 60s who was dying of cancer. What made him different was that he was shackled to the bed, one arm and one leg bound to the bed of a barren room, lit only by the pale blue light from the window that cast the silhouette of bars on the floor. This was the prison unit.
For most of our childhoods growing up in the Midwest, the Iowa we called home was a swing state proud of its investments in education, was welcoming to refugees from around the world, and was the third US state to legalize marriage equality.