April 2020

The Last Pandemic

The Last Pandemic

7:00 on a Sunday evening.

It is day 30+ of New York City’s COVID-19 pandemic. Fire trucks and flashing lights fill the street fronting the hospital emergency department where I’m a physician. The scene erupts into applause and sirens. We doctors, nurses, physician assistants, techs, housekeepers and clerks wave back and flash our individual cardboard letters spelling “Thank You!” It is so good to be outside and, for a few minutes, unafraid. Inside, our ER break room overflows with donated pizzas and pastries. Later we will take cartloads of these up to the jam-packed ICU and medicine floors.

The virus has the world by the throat, and New York City is the epicenter. None of us has ever seen this much death. But all hearts are beating together.

Answering the Call

When the pandemic first arrived in the U.S., I felt a familiar pull. Public health emergency? Epidemiology? I’d worked for decades as an infectious diseases doctor. This was right up my alley: Sign me up!

Paying My Debt to Ireland

After completing my master’s at the University of Toronto in 2019, I decided to travel to Ireland, as it’s my second home and has made me what I am today–a pediatrician. Shortly after my arrival, the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
The Medical Council of Ireland contacted all registered doctors in the country and asked us to join the fight during the crisis. The hashtag “#oncallforireland” began to trend on social media. It was the time to pay back my debt to Ireland. I answered the call and joined Children’s Health Ireland as a pediatrician.

Being Human

I work as an ambulance paramedic. Nowadays, on every call that meets the criteria for COVID-19, my colleagues and I wear masks, gloves, eye shields and gowns. We stand six feet away from our patients as we interrogate them about the presence of fever, cough, body aches, or breathing problems. 

Our overall 9-1-1 volume is down, as people stay home instead of driving drunk, as they decide to stay away from hospitals, as most of them (minus the over-advertised outliers) shelter in place. But I notice more secondary symptoms: domestic abuse, assault, anxiety, mental illness, loss of sobriety.

An Ounce of Empathy

An Ounce of Empathy

I am a medical student in my third year of studies. For medical students, this is the point at which, after two years of book learning, we rotate through hospital clerkships that give us our first experience of delivering hands-on care to inpatients.

Earlier in the year (it feels like many lifetimes ago), I read that COVID-19 was “just the flu.” We heard from scientific sources and popular media that other maladies were much worse, and that it would be a mistake to overreact to this one. Like many people, I accepted these assurances without too much concern. It all seemed a bit remote to me–the way I imagine issues like food stamps may seem to a politician who’s never needed them.

But now all of that has changed for me.

Ward Wanderer

As usual, I found myself rushing through the labyrinth of hallways at Inkosi Albert Luthuli Hospital, in search of our next tutorial. Every day, as fourth-year medical students, we are expected to present cases to awaiting consultants, in the many wards. This time I was lost. A kind nurse directed me to the place where I was meant to be…the pediatric oncology unit.
Sweet Child of Mine

Sweet Child of Mine

You know what stress is, right? You’re late for work, your car won’t start, gas costs more than you expected. We’ve all been there, and it’s not pleasant, that palm-sweating, heart-racing anxiety. Luckily, it’s not long-lasting–not toxic.
What is toxic stress? It’s prolonged adversity and/or abuse–not having enough to eat, or being exposed to violence. It’s the kind of stress that puts you on edge and keeps you there, day after day after day.
If you’re familiar with one CDC study from the 1990s, you know that factors such as divorce, domestic violence or having an incarcerated parent are called Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). Four or more ACEs can result in chronic health conditions such as heart disease or diabetes. In the long term, living with ACEs or other negative factors, such as poverty, can literally change your brain chemistry.

Racked with Guilt

“Don’t you even think of going out in this,” my former colleagues warn me. They’re on the front lines, truly seeing the effects of COVID. I retired from my medical practice five years ago when I developed some serious illnesses.
For people like me, this new coronavirus presents a unique threat. I’m used to protecting myself from infection. But this one is different. If I get COVID-19, there’s a high likelihood that I’d die.


His name announces itself as a banner across my ringing phone. We share the same last name.
I hit Mute, buying time while I do the math: Answer his call now and stave off three missed calls and two long-winded voicemails, with him clearing his throat in the background; or take the call, along with God knows what kinds of trauma he’ll inflict on me. I have avoided calling him lately. Subconsciously, I know this call won’t end well.
I hit Unmute and immediately realize that my math was wrong: I’m too late.
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