Her COVID Storytelling
for Frosso J. Adamakos, DO [ July 9, 2020 ]
So I’m a woman in medicine, and we need to change the flow
of the ER to care for COVID patients. Patient after patient
pouring in with the same thing, every patient with COVID,
and every patient a little different.
Do you give them fluids? Do you not?
Do you give them steroids? Do you not? It is hot.
I’m breathing against layers of protective gear: mask,
face shield, head-to-toe hazmat suit. I’m sweating,
and I’m so thankful not to be needing to puke
in the garbage, because how would I do that?
In this mask and shield? Because I had to do that
a few months before all this: puke multiple times a day
during my first pregnancy.
Most people expect to see a tall, male doctor, a tall,
white male, as their doctor. And it’s hard to see properly
through this face shield, and you can’t really tell who I am
or what I look like in this suit. In the heat of it: every person
is coming in with COVID. We’re all trying to figure out
what the best treatment is. Patients have to trust us. They don’t care
what the person taking care of them looks like. Patients
are scared. We’re scared.
We’re on daily calls after hours to go over what we need
to do, what we need to fight for: isolation rooms, PPE,
a restructured ER, PPE. My husband hands me our baby
while I’m on the phone to make things as easy as possible,
then takes her away when she’s screaming, to make things as easy
as possible, and I’m thinking, Am I going to bring this home?
Am I going to bring this home to her?
My husband is saying …well what do you want me to do? Worry
24/7? We are kind-of fighting. I’m on the phone to fight
for what we need. The problem is people don’t get it,
they don’t know. Do you get bloodwork? Do you not?
Do you get an X-ray? Do you not?
Every single decision is being challenged,
and we need to change the way we care for patients. We need
to change how we dress and act. We’re women,
men, black, white, Asian, straight, gay… all breathing
into uniform hazmat suits, hearing code blues, thinking
Oh my god, is that our nurse? Thinking, Do I send my residents
into this patient room? Or do I not? And I haven’t eaten.
Working eight-to-twelve-hour shifts, we’re going long hours
closed in the heat of these hazmats, running around, running
out of equipment. Do we have enough high-flow? Do we not?
Does this patient get O2? Does she not?
Do I breastfeed? Do I not? I’m checking on our nurse
multiple times a shift. One of our all-stars, he’s young, healthy,
has a three-year-old, and this is hell
seeing him in the ICU. Another code blue alarms
overhead. Am I going to bring this home? Is that our nurse?
We’re being told COVID only affects older patients,
then are seeing 20-year-olds, no medical problems,
just die. We’re now seeing children dying and pregnant women
with late-term miscarriages and early deliveries. We’re being told
if we run out of masks to use a handkerchief,
which is no defense. We’re fighting. We’re using the same mask
for five days. We’re begging.
We’re breathing the air of our voices
recycled against expired gear. On top of that
we’re intubating patients all over the place, and I need to pump
breastmilk and dump it, so I can feed my baby immunity
at home. I’ve got about two-to-three hours
with her a day. To make sure I’m being safe,
I’m hosing off in a decontamination shower, bagging
my stuff, wiping everything down, keeping what I wore
away from home. I’m missing a lot of time with her
to be safe.
We’re having conversations, so my husband starts to get it,
starts taking on more than his load of dishes, while my job demands
more. I’m waking to a text chain 36-messages long
in the morning. The scrubs I put in the wash before falling
into bed are dry because my mom hung them
so I can go back to shift. I am lucky. I don’t get challenged
as much in the hazmat because you can’t tell who I am
by what I look like. I look young. I am five-foot-three. I’m a woman
in medicine caring for COVID patients and we need
to change the flow.