Driving to work on empty highways was the first indication for me that something had really changed. In the early days of the pandemic everything was tense and filled with uncertainty. Did we have enough masks? Where is this virus? I found myself second guessing routine practices. Did I use enough soap? Did I touch that handle before I put my gloves on? It was a constant state of vigilance that we worked in. Any mistake could lead to transmission of the virus within the hospital. We worried about getting our own family members infected. Suddenly our jobs became much more personal, we were apart of the chain of possible transmission. I commiserated with nurses on the floor about constantly scanning our own bodies for symptoms. A cough or sore throat, suddenly had larger implications.
To try to contain this contagion we created space and put up barriers. I met with patients with my face hid behind a mask and face shield. Entering rooms to find wide eyes looking up to me asking about what was going to happen. I could only offer my words and hand, now covered in a blue glove. But the answers I could provide never really felt like enough. What’s going to happen doctor? Am I going to get better? Truthfully, I could not say. I could only accompany and reaffirm that for those who were extremely sick that they were in the right location. We are attentive and prepared should your breathing get worse. In that way, despite our best efforts, we still felt small.
The space this virus created between patients and their loved ones was truly the largest. Sick elderly parents were not allowed to have their children come visit. I called one husband on the phone about his sick wife, who despite looking well, was needing increasing amounts of oxygen overnight. I called to tell him that she would be going to the ICU. The last he had seen over her was days before. We both knew what was left unsaid. So many unknowns.