Inside the Respiratory Tent

Inside the Respiratory Tent

Spring comes slowly to New England. When I leave the house in the mornings at the end of April, I pull my fleece jacket tighter around me on my way to the car. My preteen daughter’s dark eyes and solemn mouth watch from the second-floor window as I pull away.
In the “don and doff” station at the respiratory tent in the hospital parking lot, I put on a gown and gloves, then take one last lungful of chilly damp air (grass, diesel fuel, coffee smells from the bodega across the street) before I plaster the N95 mask to my face, looping the elastic bands over my head like jump ropes.

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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Unmute

Unmute

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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Vision Quest

After finishing my third-year clinical rotations in medical school, I was feeling sleep-deprived and stressed out. The problem, I finally realized, was the ridiculous amount of pressure I’d put on myself to impress my attending physicians and get good grades.

My father is an ophthalmologist and cornea/cataract specialist. After routinely rejecting his career advice throughout my undergraduate years, I’d entered medical school–and, to my father’s delight, found myself increasingly fascinated by his field.

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