What Does A Doctor Sound Like When She’s Worried About COVID-19?
“The prevalence of depression and anxiety,1,2 as well as burnout and lack of work-life balance,3,4 among residents demonstrates that residents struggle with wellness during their training. A recent systematic review highlighted the need for more rigorous research on wellness during residency.4 Researchers have shown that supportive personal relationships help residents maintain wellness5 and guard against depression,6 and that residents often rely on family and friends for help with mental health problems before they seek professional help.7,8”
You might know that medical residents make minimum wage when you get married to them. That residency can be cruel to both the bodies and the minds. But no one ever prepared you for the frustration of reading fake news, trying to care for patients, and worrying about everyone who thinks the pandemic can be cured with garlic and turmeric.
Of course, you’re homebound. Your employer was kind enough to provide the hardware for you to work from home.
She, on the other hand, wakes each day — or night — to get ready for long hours where her hospital now has a makeshift quarantine area.
You weren’t warned about this when she was in med school. When you were her guinea pig; especially after the psych classes when she’d start practicing some diagnoses on you that often left one of you uncomfortable.
You know which.
Each morning, she barely musters a smile out of the door.
“We had a false positive today”, she said once.
She was relieved. She knew the small town in which you lived could barely handle any full-blown event of contamination.
Which is why when she told you about the first case, she let the silence fill her dread.
She told her mother to stay home. She warned her brothers. Even your mother and father far away in Cameroon.
Every time someone would share a random unverified message about how to cure the virus, she’d go livid. You’ve learned to be patient with her — to listen to her angry arguments against the non-sense that non-medical people would share and ask others to forward to everyone in their contact list.
“How can they do this, eh babe?”
You’ll know she’s not mad at you — not the least. She’s mad at the world. She’s mad that anyone would call this a Chinese virus. Mad that people would believe a vaccine would be used far away from the most affected areas.
Mad that it’s taken too long for people to realize this is a big deal and that even if you think you’re safe, someone you know isn’t.
She’s not really mad though.
She’s been studying for years. Even before COVID-19, she forced you to take your flu shot. She forced you to take your daily multivitamins. She encouraged you to run on the treadmill. On the rare occasions that she had a few hours before or after work, she had a pair of running shoes and clean sportswear in the car so that she could use the hospital gym.
“I pay for it anyway, I might as well use it”, she said, with a sneer.
You remember it like it was 10 years ago- the sneer. She’s lost a few pounds.
Okay, maybe more than a few.
She wants you to have her on your YouTube channel so she can talk about it. She wants to explain to everyone who would listen, that this is a big deal.
When you share the article with her about the 39-year-old man who died because of the virus, she tries, as calmly as she could, to explain what could have gone wrong. How from what she’s reading, he may have had the embolism before even getting infected.
She reads through the comments. She cannot continue.
She cannot talk about it right now. You know she will talk later. You know someone will send another message that she’ll have to tear through.
She gets a little respite in her sleep or with a funny show. But even before this all started she never had any time. Now, it’s even worse.
She has no idea when this will end. You don’t either.
You know she’ll be back at the hospital tomorrow.
You know she’s afraid she can get it and infect you in turn. You know she’s doing everything she can to uphold the oath she took.
You know you could never convince her to do anything else — that the worry and sadness she feels about the state of information pales in comparison to the pride of helping someone — anyone — feel better.
The joy of helping bring a newborn child the world. The honor of watching someone take charge of their health because of her gentle nudge. The solemnity of having to accompany someone during their last moments. The gravity of telling someone they’d have to say goodbye to the ones they love.
She’d never give this up, not even for a global pandemic. No amount of money would change her vision.
“These are strange times”, you think, “who would have thought that having babies in residency could actually be easier in comparison?”
But what can you do except be present for her? What can you do except take care of everything else — the house, the chores, the bills, the quiet reminders of the things you can’t do without her?
These are strange times. These are dark times. This is when you know why you took the chance when you go back inside and realize that you don’t have her expertise, but it doesn’t matter.
That being compassionate, patient, kind, considerate — these will help through this.
That when she thinks of her colleagues, the ones with young children who cannot see their parents as much as they’d want.
“How will they explain that this is the new normal?”, teary-eyed, she asked.
What is normal about any of this?
Yet the influx of updates has become normal. Fresh symptoms to watch out for by morning, a new list by night, revised within 24 hours.
What’s normal in a world on fire for a firefighter with a white coat?