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Treading water: Coping with uncertainty during a novel pandemic

Honoring Sachin Patel, M.D.

As I pulled into the hospital parking lot, my phone woke up with a series of texts from my physician assistant. He was worried about Betty who was now on 100% oxygen with a frightful blood gas. Rise and shine, COVID-19 is coming to our ICU—the beast is here.

In my first “tour” I went through many emotions: Fear, Sadness, Anger, Disbelief, Abandonment, Empowerment, Comradery, Hope. I learned so much.

Day after day, as night falls and we leave our humming ICUs, there is a palpable absence of support for our patients. No gentle touch or hugs for anyone. No one camps out in the waiting room. Vending machines remain full. Masked staff have replaced the familiar faces of visiting family members.

While my lens is honed by science and epidemiology, my heart and soul understand the real impact of isolating our patients and families. The balance between preventing the spread of a pathogen and giving our patients and families a human connection will be an on-going challenge in this new phase of healthcare. If we act with compassion and empathy—remembering that we chose this profession because it is a calling not a vocation—we can overcome the unique obstacles of coping with uncertainly during this novel pandemic.

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