Doctors Are Left Jittery About Their Health and Their Families

 Dr. Marc S. Arkovitz

I work in a hospital that is starting to see a surge in cases and deaths from COVID-19.

As a pediatric surgeon I am not working directly with many affected patients. Luckily, most children who get infected are either asymptomatic or minimally symptomatic.

But there are a few, and now the doctors are starting to get infected and several areas in the children’s hospital are being used to treat adults. It’s just a matter of time until we all start treating them.

Some of my colleagues have chosen to live away from home in an effort to protect their families. I am still living at home. I have a routine to try and minimize any potential exposure to my family. I change into scrubs as soon as I enter the hospital and change out immediately prior to leaving. I wear at least two masks at all times, three when I am in the operating room, and I’m never without gloves. I am almost constantly applying Purell to my hands and making sure to stay a safe distance from colleagues and patients.

My behavior borders on obsessive-compulsive. I call my wife to let her know when I will be home and make sure no one is around. I undress as soon as I walk in the door, put my clothes in a plastic bag, then immediately into the wash, and go straight to the shower.

But the reality is right now my immediate worry isn’t infecting my family. It’s abandoning them.

My father died suddenly when I was young. It was one of the defining moments in my life – and not in a good way. I have done everything in my life to try and avoid doing that to my children. That was before COVID-19.

Now, who knows? My biggest worry is that I will get infected and die from this, leaving a wife and five children. Will my three-year-old daughter even remember me? My 10-month-old definitely won’t. Do I have enough life insurance? Probably not, but can I get more now? Who will take care of them when I am gone? It seems to me like it’s just a matter of time until I get infected; not if, but when. All I can do is hope that it is a milder form.

Our neighbor, an older doctor who was working right up until the day he got sick, has just had a major neurological event and will most likely never wake up. I am in good health and young enough but people much younger than me are dying from COVID-19.

I am overcome with sadness when I think about leaving them. How will my sons grow up without a father? Who will teach them about life? My oldest is eight years old. Who is going to help him negotiate becoming a man?

There have been so many times I wished I could ask my father for advice or help. I always have looked forward to helping my children so that they won’t make the same mistakes I did. All I can do now is hope and pray.

Remember this the next time you are thinking about ignoring social distance rules: These rules don’t only protect you; they protect those around you and those who might care for you and their families.

Dr. Marc S. Arkovitz is a pediatric surgeon at Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital in Valhalla and associate professor of surgery and pediatrics at New York Medical College.

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