Dofficer J had kind eyes. He smiled as I let out a deep breath; I was about to enter the room of the first patient I cared for with COVID-19. I felt like I did when stepping into the batter’s box in a big softball game long ago: With an increased sense of awareness, I thought, “this is routine. This is important.” J seemed to sense these unspoken feelings.
“You got this doc! Just let me know when you’re ready to come out of the room.”
I laughed at myself, for J is a nurse, therefore spends hours of his day at patients’ besides. Yet he was giving me, someone who spends much less time at the bedside and is therefore at lower risk of contracting COVID-19 at work, a pep talk.
This week, I’m working in a community hospital in Seattle. We have what nowadays seems like a luxury – an adequate supply of masks and gowns. While ever-changing policies on when to wear what add doubt and a significant amount of stress to everyone’s lives, I am grateful that I have not been asked to sacrifice my own safety to care for patients with COVID-19.
Daily operations have changed drastically since I last worked at this hospital a month ago. Some of these changes make work safer but less fun. New workspaces allow providers to maintain more distance from one another, but fewer people are around to bounce ideas off of. The one route I’ve used all year to navigate the hospital has been interrupted by the creation of a COVID unit, meaning I am constantly lost. But one change I’ve enjoyed is the creation of the role of the Dofficer.
A Dofficer is a person, usually a nurse, who has been trained to help providers appropriately don (put on) and doff (take off) PPE when entering and exiting patient rooms. J coached me my first time doffing, but after seeing a few patients the process started to feel routine. Still, the hospital’s policy requires a Dofficer assist with each patient visit, and I quickly came to value these personal interactions as a welcome change in my workday.
Last night, for example, I worked with an operating room nurse who was repurposed to Dofficing when the hospital’s ORs closed to create more beds for patients with COVID. Assisting with glove and mask removal clearly laid outside of his realm of interest. Still, he had a good attitude, and in the minutes bookending my patient visit, he regaled me with stories of surgical cases he’d gotten called into in the middle of the night. Reminiscing on his not-so-long-ago glory days, which felt like a lifetime ago, provided a reprieve for both of us. With other Dofficers I’ve discussed upcoming plans (or mutual lack thereof) and childhood school lunch favorites (conversation sparked by the brown paper bag with my name on it containing my sterilized goggles that I carry around); we’ve done a celebratory dance when a patient’s COVID test came back negative.
Last week, the UW Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) published their COVID-19 pandemic modelling graphics and data. There are always assumptions and limitations to models such as these, but I found them somewhat helpful in trying to imagine what the upcoming months might looks like.
They provided good and bad news. They project that many places will have enough hospital beds and ventilators for all who need them. Not everywhere will. I haven’t figured out how to articulate my thoughts about New York City, except that I think it’s like nowhere else in the world, and that it’s made of millions of resilient, incredible individuals who are New Yorkers to the core, who have come together and survived crisis and hardship in the past and will do so again this time.
Like many, I’m trying to settle in for the long haul. This past weekend, I took a two-day vacation from COVID: I did not read email or news. It took me awhile to catch up on Monday, but it created a kind of freedom. I rode my bike and made cookies whose dough looked alarmingly like poop (but that turned out tasting great and looking…better…once baked!!); my friends made me laugh so hard I cried. These experiences pushed COVID out of the pit of my stomach and created energy within me. I think these breaks, in conjunction with taking note of the daily good, like the decrease in traffic and my interactions with Dofficers, will be key to my resilience in upcoming months.
Two friends recently gave me The Book of Delights, essays by a poet, Ross Gay, on things in life that delighted him. I reread the preface every time I open the book because it makes me so happy, so I’ll share a paragraph from it here:
“It didn’t take me long to learn that the discipline or practice of writing these essays occasioned a kind of delight radar. Or maybe it was more like the development of a delight muscle. Something that implies that the more you study delight, the more delight there is to study. A month or two into this project delights were calling to me: Write about me! Write about me! Because it is rude not to acknowledge your delights, I’d tell them that though they might not become essayettes, they were still important, and I was grateful to them. Which is to say, I felt my life to be more full of delight. Not without sorrow or fear or pain or loss. But more full of delight. I also learned this year that my delight grows—much like love and joy—when I share it.”
We’ve each already had sorrow, fear, pain, and loss. There will be more to come. But perhaps by uncovering and sharing with each other the hidden good we will get through this, slightly more full of delight.