2021—a fresh start they said.
Unfortunately, that’s not how it goes in a pandemic.
Today, as an emergency medicine resident in the midst of this pandemic, I would like to get vulnerable and human, take off my superhero cape, put aside my medical skills, and share my side of the story as a “frontliner.”
Some people were gathered with their loved ones and celebrating their New Year’s Eve at clubs, bars, restaurants, or having big gatherings at homes and chalets. Others respected the guidelines and remained at home, avoiding gatherings and enjoying their home’s comfort. Some were crying at the ICU doors unable to see their loved ones who were marked by the vicious coronavirus and isolated, while others were mourning the loss of their loved ones who lost the fight against it.
Let me tell how my New Year began.
I arrived to my shift, put my bag down, wore my N95 mask with a simple face mask above it to protect it, and asked my colleague about the patients who I would be taking care of, as his shift had ended.
Then two minutes later, I was told to stop everything I was doing because a critically ill COVID-19 positive patient was having severe respiratory distress and needed intubation, which means inserting a tube in their airway, sedating them, putting them in a medically induced coma, and allowing a ventilator to breathe for them instead, as they are not able to breathe on their own.
Imagine the level of exposure—I was literally staring COVID-19 in the face during this procedure. I stopped everything (I freaked out for a second, started shaking, and yes, it never gets easier for us, but we have to do it), took a deep breath (of course, through my face mask and N95), got into full PPE, and got my equipment ready.
I stepped into the patient’s room. I was shaking while time stood still for a second. I took another breath and had tears in my eyes, as I thought about my mom at home and my level of exposure and what would happen if my PPE failed and I caught the virus.
I took another breath and performed the procedure. As my team was helping me, I made sure the tube was in place, confirmed success, took out my PPE, washed off my skin (I was so anxious that I kept scrubbing what I could of the virus that was on me), and got out.
I honestly started crying, as it was the first half hour of my ”so-called New Year.” My colleague ran to me and asked if I needed help. I told them I was okay, I shook it off, and carried on with my shift, which was basically a giant COVID-19 fiesta with a lot of critical patients who, soon enough, we wouldn’t be able to accommodate in our ER.
I am sharing this with you to show a glimpse of what we are going through on a daily basis. I want everyone to see that we are vulnerable—we break, we fall, we cry, we have fears, we have families who wait for us and pray for us daily. We are afraid on behalf of them, we are worried constantly, underpaid, understaffed, burnt out, exhausted, malnourished, and lacking sleep.
Don’t get me wrong—this is my duty and I am happy to help, as I took an oath and I truly love medicine. But what saddens me the most is seeing the other side of the story: people partying, going out, posting it boldly on social media, and disregarding our pain, our exhaustion, our sacrifice, and the pain of the people who lost their family members and loved ones to this deadly virus.
I want to show appreciation and love to every frontliner fighting with us against this virus, the conspiracy theories, the disbelief, the political wars, the refusal to do simple tasks that help flatten the curve and ease the spread in a way we can handle and contain.
I want to thank them for their courage, their initiative, and their ability to step up and do the deed. I want them to walk proudly and to know they are loved and seen and acknowledged in every small effort they are doing.
Lastly, I want you to fight with us, not against us. Please don’t make it harder for us to help you and try to contain this monstrous virus.
Think and act responsibly.
You know what will help, but I’ll say it again: wash your hands, maintain social distancing, wear your face masks, avoid unnecessary gatherings, listen to the science—to the tangible.
Is is that awful to be home and make use of some extra free time for a change? Please, make us feel like we are fighting this together, not against each other.
We are all on the same boat, so let’s get out alive and say, “To hell with you COVID-19. We kicked you in the nuts, and you are out. For good!”