The Good, the Bad & the Bloody

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For more than half my life, I’ve worked around my husband’s schedule. He’s an Emergency Room physician. The hospital never closes, which means his weird shifts dictate most of our plans.

We often celebrate holidays, not when they fall, but whenever he’s off. Missing a myriad of momentous occasions comes with the territory, though Christmas was especially hard when the kids were little. Mornings when they got up to find Santa had been, but their dad was gone. Or evenings we gathered around a turkey-laden table toasting his empty chair. I would send him off with a container of dinner and hope he had time to eat. The worst were the night shifts, when he’d stumble home mid-morning, so tired, he’d fall asleep with a spoon of oatmeal half-way to his mouth.

While he pulled back the curtain on every illness and desperate human condition imaginable, I taught school and now I write — often about health. Medicine has shaped our lives, mostly in a good way and we are grateful.

Paul loves his work. It’s never boring. There’s never a shortage of it. He never forgets the privilege of patient care.

But I’ve never felt my husband’s call to duty more acutely than now, in the days of COVID-19.

Hospitals across the country are preparing for battle. Amassing armies of staff, an assemblage of supplies, freeing up beds, sealing off resuscitation rooms and setting up triage areas.

I think of it like a tsunami warning; you know it’s coming but it hasn’t hit yet. Those of us asked to stay home are the people who’ve been given time to evacuate. In seeking higher ground, we protect the people charged with guarding the shore.

Because the tsunami has already slammed other coastlines around the world, we have a good idea of what we’re in for. It’s terrifying. We must learn from those still fighting the waves.

An ER doc from New York City offered this advice to colleagues: ““Don’t be lulled by the lull. The surge starts suddenly. We went from low volumes for a week and then one day the waiting room was completely full of respiratory patients.””

He advised finding safe treatment areas, like the hospital lobby or cafeteria. Getting a tent for triage. ““Leave your own crap at home. Put your phone and your ID in a plastic bag……assume everyone has it.””

Many patients arrive without fevers. Some have normal X-rays one day but come back the next with bilateral pneumonia. Patients crash fast.

He signed off, ““I can tell you; we are all unnerved.””

Which isn’t reassuring. I’ve been reluctant to send my husband off to work; I’ve never been scared.

Most of us are doing what we should. We are self-isolating and physical distancing, so contrary to our nature, but so necessary to protect those who must meet the enemy head-on and the vulnerable among us. In this way, we are all being called to war.

We have become teachers in home classrooms, delivery people to those who can’t get out. We have become entrepreneurs and even entertainers. We have restructured our work, if we are lucky enough to still be employed.

We are sacrificing so that we may emerge from this pandemic stronger, more united, more appreciative than ever of the liberties we take for granted, the people we love, the health and well-being of humanity.

The Facebook sentiments of an ICU doctor in Bergamo, Italy — a country that has lost more than 8, 000 people to COVID-19 at the time of this writing — hit home.

“Our enemy was still in the shadows when over the course of the week our hospital was re-organized…… We were waiting for a war that was yet to begin and we were not sure it would come with such ferocity...

“I can still remember a night call when I was awaiting the results of a swab, one possible case. Now I’ve seen the war explode.

“Battles are uninterrupted day and night … the boards with the names of patients all with the same damn diagnosis: bilateral interstial pneumonia.

“The ER is collapsing … every ventilator is like gold … staff are exhausted. I’ve seen new levels of tiredness on faces … There are no more shifts, no more hours. We don’t see family or friends for fear of infecting them…

“There is solidarity among us … nurses with tears in their eyes because we cannot save everyone, the vital parameters of patients with an already marked destiny…

“So be patient when you can’t go to the theater and museums or the gym. Try to have pity on the old people you could exterminate.”

When you see those photos of healthcare workers on social media asking you to stay home so they can safely go to work; when you’re told the vulnerable are at risk, this is what it means. We all need to take one for the team.

As I prepare to send my husband off to war, the only thing I can arm him with is love and support. And food. All this distancing means more time on my hands to make and freeze meals for him.

Someday we will emerge from our houses and run whooping with joy for restaurants, bars, theaters, gyms, and malls. I’ll see you there.

Until then, please stay at home.

Shannon Linden writes a blog, magazine articles and grocery lists. Visit her at: