Written by Katie Dolbec, M.D.’10, assistant professor of surgery at the UVM Larner College of Medicine and emergency medicine physician at UVM Medical Center
The whole world has changed in a few short weeks; both personal life and work life have taken on a completely different feel. What used to be rote, normal, hectic, and routine has become apprehensive and earnest, but also, to a certain extent, calm and serene. The pace of life has slowed, and the focus has narrowed. It is easy to forget that there is more to life and clinical practice than COVID-19.
Although we are seeing fewer patients per shift, there is an acute, ever-present sense of the need for constant vigilance. Donning, doffing, hand washing, and preparation to return home take incredible mental energy as the desire to prevent the spread of infection – to ourselves, our patients, and our families – has become paramount. Additionally, it is easy to forget that there are other pathologies that persist despite COVID-19. Each patient has COVID-19 until proven otherwise, and I live in fear of missing other life-threatening pathologies in a world viewed through COVID-tinted lenses. Remaining so vigilant is exhausting in a way I have not previously experienced.
Family life has been completely upended. I made the difficult decision in late March to send my husband and small children (two year-old and 4 year-old) to live with my in-laws. They packed for three months, but we aren’t sure how long they will be gone. This was a great decision for all, but it leaves me sad and lonely.
Therefore, my work family, always an important part of my life, has become a critical crutch on which I am leaning. Being allowed the outlet of going to work, socializing with colleagues, and commiserating over the current state of the world, all while supporting each other, has been invaluable. I am incredibly grateful to be surrounded by such a hard-working, upbeat, supportive, and smart group of physicians, PAs, nurses, EMTs, registration personnel, respiratory therapists, secretaries, and radiology technicians. They make my work fun, rewarding, and satisfying. We have the best team I can imagine in the ED.
Early on, there was a scramble as we worked to set up for an impending tsunami of sick COVID-19 patients. Things that were previously inconceivable were accomplished overnight – a new outdoor treatment area, new and updated protocols and processes, schedule changes, addition of staff from other parts of the hospital. This incredible push for preparedness has left me feeling that we are, well, prepared – prepared for an influx of patients, prepared to treat sick patients, prepared to protect ourselves from getting sick, prepared to mentally weather this storm, and prepared for whatever the world looks like when we emerge on the other side of this crisis.
There is now a feeling of tension, like a compressed spring. We are waiting for the wave to crash, for the patients to flood in. We are ready, the whole team, to face this challenge, this enemy, this virus. I went to medical school to work hard, help people, and make a difference in the world. I feel grateful and honored that this crisis has hit during my career as an emergency physician. My life, both at home and at work, will never be the same.