Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, I kept myself sane by writing “Notes from the 13th Floor” — a series of moments I wished I could share with the outside world and the kind I never wanted to forget.
The instant I activated my phone, it rang. I steadied my microphone and saw 34 callers in the queue. “COVID-19 hotline,” I answered.
As a high school volunteer in my local hospital’s oncology unit, I remember the sinking feeling in my stomach every time I saw the bright “Contact Precautions” sign on the door. I would begrudgingly don a flimsy plastic gown, fix a tight surgical mask around my ears, snap on a pair of gloves and proceed into the patient’s room.
There has recently been an increasing appreciation for social determinants of health. The term encompasses the circumstances in which people live, including factors such as income, race, food, housing, transportation and environmental conditions.
Every day, twenty times a day, I listen to breaths. “Take a deep breath in and out… good… and another…” Mostly clear breaths, sometimes crackly, sometimes wheezy. I place a hand on the person’s shoulder, subtly offering kindness and connection. I enjoy this time to take deep breaths myself.
2020 was a tough year for all of us (and 2021, and 2022…), but it brought me closer to the medical humanities. The pandemic was the reason that I began to write.
March 13, 2020. A date engraved in many of our minds. The day the President declared a National Emergency concerning the Novel Coronavirus Disease Outbreak.
When I originally came to the United States for medical school, I was very nervous. I knew no one in Minnesota and was separated from my family by a greater than six hour flight to another country.
The pungent odor of formaldehyde permeates through the room and I can smell it through my mask and face shield. I am leaning over the body I am dissecting, trying to identify structures as the instructor appears before our tank, armed with a grading pen and a barrage of questions.
As I unzip the synthetic shroud, / he breathes his last, first breath: / one final exhalation from the plastic pleura / before we make acquaintance.
Like many medical students, I am familiar with the antiparasitic medication ivermectin, a common drug taught in medical school. Ivermectin became an unexpected subject in the COVID-19 pandemic. However, after seeing a patient in the clinic taking ivermectin as an alternative to vaccination, the news hit differently.
During my OB/GYN rotation, one of my primary roles as a medical student was to observe and assist during labor and delivery. On one particularly memorable Friday afternoon, after we welcomed a healthy baby boy into our world, I delivered the placenta wholly intact on my own. However, while I felt satisfied with a job well done, something was dripping down my leg…