By Pon Ti Cruise, D.O. (’19)
03/29/2020: My baby girl is five months old today, and I wish more than anything I could be back home with her all snuggled up in my arms.
I'm a first-year resident in a small, rural program. A patient I was caring for tested positive for COVID – the first in our hospital and the first in our county. I started having symptoms a couple of hours before I learned of his status. It took three days for us to receive his results, and that was expedited.
Awful body aches, horrible chills and progressive weakness. At first, I tried to explain it away. I had finished a week of night float with minimal sleep. I didn't drink enough water, and I'm tired. It became harder to deny, but I'm still hopeful it's the flu.
Initially, I didn't want to be tested because tests are in short supply at my hospital, and I didn't want to use valuable resources. However, it was the quick onset that convinced me otherwise. I was tested the same day.
I'm essential. There are not enough physicians in our area, and everyone available needs to remain healthy and able-bodied in light of this pandemic because it will be a lot worse. I probably won't know for another three or four days. I'm now quarantined to protect my family and others. I feel so awful and guilty because I work closely with so many amazing physicians and nurses, and I'm worried I passed it to them even though I took precautions. I worry about my coworkers and their loved ones.
It's not just tests that are in short supply at our hospital, but also adequate PPE and medications, like the rest of the country. Additionally, we have the challenges of a small rural hospital to contend with: lack of specialists and financial resources to procure necessary equipment, even if they were available to us.
My program was very forward-thinking in planning and mitigating the anticipated chaos, but we were not prepared to learn how ill-prepared we were. Residents have been submitting grants and MacGyvering equipment based on what we have found on Reddit, Facebook groups and online resources.
We recently 3D printed masks that passed FIT testing, and we are now using grant funding to print enough for our hospital. At this point, we are trying to piece information together, and the only guidelines we know to tackle this pandemic are 'in flux.' Essentially, we are trying to fight a fast-moving target.
I'm scared – not for myself, but for my husband and my young girl. It is so incredibly difficult for me to imagine my daughter growing up without me. She is so young; she wouldn't even have memories of me. That is the thought I take comfort in: It will be okay because she won't remember me, so she won't miss me. Morbid, I know. But you hear about healthy nurses and physicians who have died.
I have already made plans, just in case. But my darling husband... This is not what he signed up for. He didn't sign up to be a single father. He didn't sign up to lose his partner. He accepted my first love will be medicine, my patients and my career. He accepted the long hours I'd be gone. He didn't know I would be put in a position to work without adequate protection or clear guidance. Honestly, neither did I.
Please take this 'social distancing' seriously and stay at home because as a physician, I cannot. Please, just stay home and love on your family, because I cannot. I missed my girl's first back-to-belly flip, sitting up and finding her toes. And it sucks.
Best case scenario, my test comes back negative, so I can continue to work.
Stay safe, everyone.
Stay at home.
Don't do anything stupid to land yourself in the ER unnecessarily (that's where you're most likely to contract COVID).
We will get through this.