Dr. Roya Etemad-Rezai
The first time I had an inclination that something was wrong was a Friday evening in mid-March when I went to buy milk after work and there was pandemonium in the grocery store. People were filling their shopping carts like World War Three had been declared. I stood there in the middle of the craziness with my bag of milk wondering why the toilet paper packages were flying off the shelves.
The following week, after the World Health Organization called the coronavirus a global pandemic, all hell broke loose and life would never be the same. The hospital went into lock down and only essential staff were allowed in. I stood in long line-ups every morning, 6 feet apart, patiently waiting my turn to be triaged and questioned before being allowed in. People were introduced to new vocabulary like "social distancing" and "herd immunity". All of a sudden, we were at war with a virus and we became the mandatory soldiers. I cut my hair really short and I stopped wearing any makeup or jewelry. My battle gear now included wearing scrubs, protective goggles, gowns, masks and gloves when dealing with patients. I had to do a crash course on COVID-19 and its radiological manifestations. It was a new virus we were not familiar with.
It was hard to keep up with all the new information that came out daily but I kept reading articles, I listened to webinars, I kept in touch with colleagues in other cities and countries who had more experience with COVID-19. Some of their stories frightened me for what was to come. I washed my hands incessantly and I went through disinfectant wipes like candy at Halloween. I stopped using elevators and going to the cafeteria. I stopped walking around in the department, trying to avoid people and calling them on their phones instead. I sat behind a closed door in my office and felt like a criminal every time I coughed. I took away the candy dish on my desk that the residents loved so much. We sent the residents and non-essential staff home. The corridors and waiting rooms were empty. The hospital became a ghost town. We opened a field hospital and we were told we might be redeployed to assist in areas like the ICU or ER as needed if there was a surge. I had nightmares about running a code blue (resuscitation) by myself.
In the midst of all this craziness, I also found a silver lining. I found out that we are stronger and more resilient than we give ourselves credit for. We are inventive, we can adapt to adversity, and we can learn quickly. I found out that complete strangers can make your day, that there is immense kindness and generosity when you least expect it, and that even the worst days eventually come to an end.