Month: May 2020

Mommy Chuy

Mommy Chuy

Mrs. Hernandez is a ninety-two-year-old Spanish-speaking woman, originally from Mexico, with high blood pressure and high cholesterol, who arrived in the emergency department of the hospital where I’m a fourth-year medical student.

Her right arm and leg were weak, the right side of her face drooped; her speech was slurred, and she seemed confused. Her CT scans showed that a blood clot had blocked her middle cerebral artery, in the area of the brain that governs language. Mrs. Hernandez was a stroke victim.

Mrs. Hernandez is also my abuela.

Lenses of a Global Experience

Starting to feel slightly fatigued from my residency training in the U.S., I departed for a one-month international rotation in Japan, hoping this would broaden my perspective and help reignite my joy for medicine. It was during a trip six years earlier to South Asia that my decision to go into medicine was affirmed, and I hoped this trip to Japan would provide me with similar inspiration.

What We Knew

When my neighbors and colleagues and I had to leave our jobs, when we had to stay home, when our favorite activities were canceled, when we became afraid to greet our neighbors, when we became afraid to walk through our neighborhood, when our favorite restaurants closed, when we could only see and hear our friends, our coworkers, our grown children at a technological remove— when all this happened, a few things that we all knew came into sharp focus.  

Doing Time

Doing Time

COVID-19 Confinement, Day Four: My partner, James, sleeps. He coughs. He breathes. He smiled this morning when I brought in tea. He nodded when I asked if he wanted the curtains open so that he could look at the sea, then returned to sleep.
We’re quarantined in James’s new beach house on a skinny peninsula that’s only three blocks wide, bay-to-sea, off of New Jersey. I am a stranger here. When a cardiologist covering for James’s doctor in New York asked me the location of the nearest hospital, I couldn’t say.
I’m sitting in the second bedroom on a small orange settee. Hard and spare, it provides the structure on which I wait as we make our way through the long days–James in one room, I in the next, close enough to respond if need be.
We haven’t even finished furnishing this place. This room has no bedside table or lamp. There is an electrical short inside the wall next to my bed. If I bump it, the ceiling light blows out.

No Visitors Allowed

His voice was serious and stern. “You can’t visit, mom,” my son said. “I’m a vector.” In fact, he’s a doctor working at a big-city hospital, and while not on the immediate front lines in terms of direct contact with COVID-19 patients, he is very involved in the logistics related to the ventilators in the ICUs. Walking the common halls and entering the secure isolation areas daily puts him at risk not only for contracting the virus himself but also for transmitting it unknowingly. He could be asymptomatic but test positive for the virus. He absolutely would not consider putting his seventy-year-old parents in danger.

So… no visiting. Not him, not his wife, not his two teenaged children.

The Precariousness of Life

I was in the shower this morning. (I have a big event today: going to the grocery drive-thru while they put some items into the trunk so I can drive home, sanitize everything and finally have some ice cream! Anyway, I digress.) In the shower I was singing the song from Jesus Christ Superstar, “Could We Start Again, Please?”
Living-Room Code

Living-Room Code

It was a cold Friday morning, and my day started slow. I was a third-year emergency-medicine resident in West Philadelphia and was doing my EMS rotation.
I rode with the EMS lieutenant, who told me, “My job is to assist the medics with the bad stuff.” This, he explained, usually meant codes (cardiac arrests) and fires.
Then we got the first call and zipped through the city, lights and sirens blaring.
Detachedly, I wondered what type of cardiac arrest awaited us. When we walked into the apartment building and saw a twenty-three-year-old woman in the doorway, her face distraught and fearful, I knew.
The apartment was warm, well furnished and cozy. Firemen, who’d arrived on the scene first, knelt on the blue-carpeted floor to perform CPR on the young man lying there, as the medics tried to put in an IV.

Learning Empathy

I met Marv in 1990, when I began teaching at a Michigan public middle school. We shared many of the same eighth-grade students–in my Language Arts classes and his American History ones. We also retired around the same time, in the early 2000s. Marv, however, developed advanced multiple sclerosis, leaving this once active man–who had coached sports and taught driver’s education–wheelchair-bound. For the past two years, he has been confined to his apartment. During my frequent phone calls with him, I have told him that I understand how isolated he feels and I have encouraged him to make the most of each day.
But COVID-19 has taught me that I’ve been a liar.

An Editor’s Invitation: COVID-19, Chapter 2

This month’s More Voices theme is COVID-19, Chapter 2. Coronavirus is still very much with us, affecting us in ways we couldn’t have imagined a few months ago.
I’ve been doing telemedicine these past weeks. I’ve had the privilege of accompanying, by phone, a number of my patients who’ve been doing battle with the virus at home–and to everyone’s great relief, most of them have done well.
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