How has this virus taken a toll on your mental health?
It has caused additional stress. The way I see it, all patients are considered COVID-positive, so I approach each patient with additional caution. Additionally, there is stress due to my age and the fact I have two children at home, ages 5 years and 10 months.
I find myself waking every night around 3 am with worries that I have been infected and have brought it home to my immediate family. There is additional stress from other family members as well. I am fortunate that I have a strong faith. My previous military background causes me to prepare for each patient as if I were going on patrol, taking as many precautions as possible.
What is so unsettling about this pandemic?
It’s the uncertainty of the symptoms. So many patients present with so many different symptoms such as stroke or heart issues and are testing positive for the virus. There is no rhyme or reason. There are some that look as though they have symptoms of COVID-19 yet test negative while others we didn’t presume to have contracted the virus, test positive. It’s difficult not having adequate equipment or tests. I am frustrated with those who fail to understand this pandemic, especially those who are not walking the halls of the emergency department (ED).
How has the emotional impact of what you see impacted your personal life and your relationship with your family or friends?
It has been rough. My partner is much younger than I am and doesn’t have a medical background so the stress has been much higher. She is always checking with “Dr. Google” and reading how I am going to bring the virus home. I changed the way I practice, not because of her concerns but because of mine. I definitely do not want to bring it home so I had to adjust and start using scrubs and changing clothes before I greet my children. I’m not able to talk about what happened in the ED because they do not understand. Instead, I talk with my fellow doctors and veterans.
Don’t bring it home. Being Hispanic/German, we are used to hugging and handshakes, and now we have to adjust that. We have to stay quarantined and not visit with the rest of my family. I see my son sad because he can’t go out to play or go to the park But this has brought me closer to my son and my daughter. I spend as much time with them as I can.
What are you seeing or doing that inspires you to keep fighting?
We are emergency medicine. We are mavericks, pioneers. Like I tell my students and residents, “I am airborne, I am cavalry, I go into the thick of it and, challenged by the situation, find ways to improve and sort things out.” I always wanted to be a doctor, and I love being an emergency doctor.
What would you like your patients to know about being an emergency physician during all of this?
We are here to take care of you! We are trained for the unknown, we are trained in chaos and how to control it. Emergency medicine is a state of controlled chaos. We are the Sherlock Holmes of medicine, ready to take on the unexpected. We take the sickest of the sick. We are here for you 24/7/365.