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?

Or not?

 

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.


NICOLE MIYASHIRO