As a Family Physician, I knew that at some point I would become infected with COVID-19. For me, it was never a question of if I’d get sick, rather how soon and how sick I would get. Of course, there was also the added fear of bringing this home and infecting my husband; I’d worry how sick he would get. I suspect these are the typical fears and anxieties of most of us on the “frontlines” due to the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) and the highly infectious nature of this virus. From the moment we had our first case in the state of Florida, our administration was working hard to ration our PPE supplies and devise protocols to care for our patients while also protecting our staff. I’m grateful for their prompt and noble efforts.
For me, the rationing of supplies meant re-using the same N95 mask for a week at a time and wiping down my gown and face shield with disinfectant after each use. I long for the days where infectious control measures mandated disposing of masks after each use to minimize the risk of contagion, but those days are long behind us now. I’m grateful to family and friends who have offered to send me the few N-95 masks they had at home, usually for wood-working or other home projects.
Shortly after the 1st cases started to appear in Miami, Florida, where I currently work at Miami Beach Community Health Center, the worries intensified. I saw many patients with symptoms highly suspicious for COVID-19 that just did not meet the limited initial testing criteria. It was upsetting for both me and my patients to just send them home with recommendations for quarantine, suggestions about how to protect their families from infection and strict return precautions. There is no cure, and there are no treatment options with strong evidence at the time this piece was written. I felt powerless.
Two weeks ago I left work on a Friday afternoon feeling discouraged, but also noticing a tightness in my chest. I woke up the next day with extreme fatigue and malaise and spiked a fever that night. My time had come. I am young and healthy, so, fortunately, my illness course was manageable, and I was back to normal 10 days after illness onset.
I’m grateful to have recovered and to get back to the “frontlines” next week. Of course, I feel a sense of responsibility as a physician to be involved and help manage this crisis. Like many of my colleagues, our hours have been cut back as our clinics have limited patient visits to just urgent matters, appropriately so, but that leaves me feeling like I am not realizing my full potential as a caregiver and healer. I think there are many ways to combat these feelings, and frankly, this guilt.
Studies show that resilience comes from having a sense of purpose and helping others. There are so many ways we can all help, and here are my thoughts, in no particular order:
- Educate patients, family, and friends about how to enact social distancing.
- Donate money to food banks or other charities working to support those affected by the crisis.
- Volunteer your free time at food banks, assuming you are young and in good health.
- Advocate for continued funding for Community Health Centers, so we can continue to care for the most vulnerable in our communities. Check out hcadvocacy.org.
- Call a family member or a friend who you know is social distancing alone.
- Offer to buy food or other household supplies for an elderly neighbor.
- Organize a Zoom with friends and family to create a sense of connectedness.
- Donate any facemasks you may have at home, or sew face masks and gowns for health care providers.
- Donate blood.
- Complete unfinished tasks at home or work.
In the words of Emily Esfahani Smith, a writer for the New York Times, “This certainly won’t be remembered as a happy period in the history of the world, but it may be remembered as a time of redemptive meaning and hope.”