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“The Worst Mistake of My Life”

Before stepping into Jasmin’s room, I slathered my hands with cold Purell and began the mundane ritual of donning my PPE. The smell of alcohol filled my nostrils as I grabbed a gown and the paper bag containing my N-95 mask and face shield. Like a seasoned soldier preparing for battle, I put on my gear with ease. With my gloves glued to my skin by sanitizer, I rapped on Jasmin’s door, asking permission to

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Q&A: The COVID-19 Vaccine

“How are you surviving the COVID-19 pandemic?”

Lately, this is my new opening question with patients who come for a routine office visit. As a cardiologist in a community-hospital setting, I see mostly elderly patients.

When I ask my patients this question as they sit on the exam table wearing their brightly colored masks, they usually answer, “I don’t go out much. When I do, I wear a mask and practice social distancing.”

In recent

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In Need of a Prayer

The new patient’s name is Emmanuel. He was sent from his nursing home to our emergency room with a cough and fever. The oxygen level in his blood is well below normal, and he’s gasping for air.

It’s my third week in the local community hospital ER. I’ve been putting in extra on-call time during the COVID pandemic. It’s been rough to get back into the emergency setting while continuing my day job as a

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Only Connect

It was 5:00 pm in the intensive-care unit, and my team and I had just wrapped up our interview with elderly Ms. Armijo, who was in critical condition after emergency abdominal surgery.

Exhausted after a long day, we headed for the door, the ICU machines and monitors beeping their goodbyes.

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A Question of Trust

Years ago, when I first joined the family-medicine faculty of the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW), I spearheaded a project to build stronger connections with the surrounding communities, primarily made up of people of color and low-income individuals. Deepening our ties with these communities would, we hoped, give us more understanding of our patients’ health needs, and might help them to feel more receptive to our efforts.

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I Would Like to Call It Beauty

Gearing up for my night shift in the COVID-19 intensive-care unit, I don my personal protective equipment (PPE)–a white plastic air-purifying respirator (PAPR) hood. The hood connects via a tube to a large battery pack that I strap onto my waist over my scrubs. I turn on the battery and shiver when the rush of cool air blows past my ears. I walk into a bright white antechamber where a safety officer inspects me.

“You’re

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In the Biodome

In the Biodome

As a pulmonary and critical-care medicine fellow, I care for patients with a broad variety of respiratory ailments. But little did I know, as I examined my patient Mr. Smith in the outpatient pulmonary clinic this past winter, that I’d see him again only months later as my first patient with COVID-19.

Mr. Smith was tough as nails. A stoic retired steelworker and former smoker, he suffered from significant emphysema, but was inclined–by nature and

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Burned Out

Burned Out

It’s been five months since I left my position as a psychiatrist and medical director, and like everyone, I’m wrestling with questions about how COVID-19 has changed our lives, maybe forever. As I read the news and hear from my former colleagues, who’ve had to quickly ramp up to deliver telepsychiatry, I feel a mixture of emotions: fear and concern for my former patients; guilt that I’ve left my colleagues behind to fight on without

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Please Don’t Call Us Heroes

Please Don’t Call Us Heroes

The people I work with don’t want to be called heroes.
Don’t misunderstand me. I am a psychologist and medical educator in a family-medicine residency that serves a diverse, multilingual immigrant population. I work with healthcare providers of all stripes–family-medicine residents and attending physicians, medical receptionists, medical assistants, case workers and clinic managers. My colleagues are profoundly dedicated, talented, hardworking, flexible, creative and compassionate. They absolutely want to do everything they can to help patients

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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

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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

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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

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