Five Questions with Dr. Yomna Nassef

You are an emergency physician in New York City, what three words best characterize your experience during the pandemic?

Isolating by virtue of quarantine and social distancing, but also as a new mom. In the city I have always called home, for the first time there are days I feel stuck on an island alone.

Foreign because after spending my entire life in NYC, the empty streets were entirely unrecognizable

Unpredictable NYC has been through a lot. 9/11, Superstorm Sandy, and the Great Recession, to name a few. Life certainly felt unpredictable in the wake of those events. There was an air of hope and recovery after those events but today we are months into the pandemic with many still looking for the light at the end of the tunnel.

Has your work fighting this virus impacted your family life?

2020 was always going to be a year of firsts for our family. My husband and I welcomed our son Dean in February. The first month was exciting, scary, and challenging.

As I emerged from the fog of new parenthood, my husband, who is also an emergency physician, had to return to work right as the COVID-19 surge began. For the first time, I feared for his safety at work, and I was apprehensive about returning to the emergency department after maternity leave.

This pandemic has changed my life forever, and it has been very hard on me and my family. I recently lost my grandmother to COVID but have not been able to grieve with my family. In the span of a few weeks, I also lost several close friends and colleagues to the virus, including my former attending physician during residency, Dr. Lorna Breen

My husband and I treat COVID patients regularly, and we worry about exposing our loved ones to the virus. There is no manual for managing responsibilities with mom and dad on the frontlines. The prospect of infecting my family members is terrifying. We feel more comfortable seeing family today, in a socially distanced manner, but I am concerned my comfort will be short-lived as the potential for another surge is compounded by the risks of the approaching flu season. 

The spread slowed but the stress and grief linger. My husband and I need support on many levels. I am not sure I have had a chance to sufficiently process this experience, but I have a job to do.

You have seen the worst of this virus up close, what would you like patients to know?

Many patients are coming in with complications from delayed or missed medical care for non-COVID conditions. I want to encourage everyone to maintain social distancing and take precautions but get the medical care you need! Too many patients are coming to my emergency department with preventable illness, or conditions with symptoms you cannot ignore, like strokes, infections, or even heart attacks. 

Has your experience changed the way that you feel about emergency medicine?

We were always essential workers, especially on those treacherous snow days, but this pandemic changes everything. I truly feel essential and have a strong sense of purpose. I am prouder than ever to be an emergency medicine physician.   

At some point you may have some well-deserved free time. What are you looking forward to most once your schedule gets back to normal? 

I cannot wait to take my son on the subway for a slice of Joe’s Pizza on Carmine Street! And I look forward to the day I can take a long, leisurely walk with a clear head and this pandemic in the rear view.

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