The Lucky Few

for Liz So, MD [ October 18, 2021 ]

The night shift means putting out fires. Calling
loved ones. Everyone knows that no good news comes
from a phone call at 2:30 a.m.

Sometimes a patient woke up and even though I’d been watching over them for days
I’d introduce myself. You don’t know me but I monitored you in the night, I talked
to your brother, he called for updates
same time every day
. The ones who woke up
were the lucky few. On the night shift
it might be my job to say, Call your family before you go on a respirator, knowing
I may be witnessing the last conversation this person will have with their loved ones.
Or caring for a girl who woke up but her mother had died. I monitored
her, waiting for her to be well enough to receive that news.
One thing that haunts me, from giving status updates
to patients’ families in the middle of the night: I’d say, No changes, or give
bad news and they said Thank You. Why? We tried
our best and their loved ones still died.

While caring for patients we kept ICU lists, with patient info,
detailing what had happened to them overnight. A lot of notes meant
lots of bad things happened to them on our watch. I keep some lists, wondering
how my patients are doing, if they survived, but I can’t bring myself to look them up.
I’m OK but I’m not OK, does that make sense? According to the National
Institutes of Health 10-15% frontline doctors
have trauma, I’m one of those lucky few. Do frontline workers
deserve hazard pay? Some say, This isn’t what I signed up for! Some say, This is EXACTLY what we signed
up for and it is an honor to help during crisis.
I see both sides and I don’t
know where I stand but I know I feel lucky
that I still want to do this job.

If I could choose to do it all over again—though the work
was hard, and so bad for my mental health it was probably
unsustainable—I would. I would choose
to help how I could.

LAURA EPPINGER