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The Things We Carry

It has been said that we in health care carry a backpack of sorrows.

There is a sanctity to being on the inside, trusted to care for people in their weakest, darkest and most vulnerable moments. When it feels like control is gone, we steady our voices even when we too feel scared.

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Grieving in the Age of Zoom

Oncologists like myself are no strangers to death. It is all too familiar. We give our patients the best that medicine has to offer; we cure them if we can. When our efforts fail, we relieve their pain and ease their suffering. And when they pass away, we grieve. With their friends, colleagues, family members, partners and spouses, we grieve.

Almost by definition, a time of mourning is a time of gathering. Both to grieve

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Perspectives on COVID-19: Bonds of Marriage, Part 2

Editor’s note: This two-part series presents the stories of Wim and Jo, a husband and wife whose lives were profoundly impacted by coronavirus (COVID-19).

Jo’s Story

My name is Jo Ann, and everybody calls me Jo. I’m seventy-four years old. I’ve enjoyed teaching grade school for forty-two years and plan to return after COVID-19–if they let me.

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Perspectives on COVID-19: Bonds of Marriage, Part 1

Editor’s note: This two-part series presents the stories of Wim and Jo, a husband and wife whose lives were profoundly impacted by coronavirus (COVID-19).

Wim’s Story

My name is Willem, and I go by Wim. I’m seventy-five years old. I moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, as a young man with plans to go into seminary. That’s where I met Jo, my wife. We didn’t go together too long before getting married. She supported me while

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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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