The rooms on the observation unit are small, so as I rounded with my team, we were forced to encircle the patient’s bed to fit in the space. I, her attending physician, stood at the right side of the head of the bed as one resident, two interns, and three medical students took their places around the bed. She looked at our group and asked who was present. Before I could introduce each team member, she looked at me in my long white coat and attending physician ID badge and remarked, “Clearly, you’re my nurse.”
Making my rounds, I come to Room 603. As I put on my PPE, I see that my patient is desaturating, despite the heated, high-flow oxygen I placed her on yesterday. She isn’t in distress, but the numbers on her monitor tell me where things are headed. When she was admitted two days ago, we talked about the possibility of her needing a breathing tube if she got worse. At that time, she told me that, yes, she wanted everything done to save her life if it came to that.
“Seven little soldier boys chopping up sticks; one chopped himself in halves and then there were six.
“Six little soldier boys playing with a hive; a bumblebee stung one and then there were five.
“Five little soldier boys going in for law; one got in chancery and then there were four.
“Four little soldier boys going out to sea; a red herring swallowed one and then there were three.”
I grew up Italian American, which meant special occasions were marked with food. Christmas was celebrated with a white cardboard box stuffed with cannolis, napoleons, and baba rums. Family gatherings included wedges longer than I am tall piled high with capicola, salami, and prosciutto, accompanyied by bowls of mozzarella balls glistening with olive oil. Summer nights entailed grilled sausages and two-for-one ice cream sundaes at the Carvel across town.
The current COVID surge has been the hardest of all. Like many of my colleagues, I was physically and emotionally spent before it even began. But more than the exhaustion, what’s made it so difficult for me is that it didn’t have to happen. We have a safe and effective vaccine that’s widely available. While vaccinated individuals may still be infected, they make up a small number of people requiring hospitalization and ICU care. In advocating for vaccination, it feels like healthcare workers have become public enemies.
About the artist:
This photo depicts a moment in the life of an individual with type I diabetes. At the time, the subject had been living with diabetes for 6,779 days, which included 40,674 finger pricks and 47,453 insulin injections.