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.
General: / Patient is in NAD, / except for being awoken at 7 a.m. by someone he has never met
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…
The COVID-19 pandemic’s devastating effects upon our nursing homes has highlighted the vulnerabilities of this sector of our health system. With increased attention to the issues in such a growing and vital part of our society, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for change.
For current third-year students across the country, the pandemic hit at a notably unstable moment in our lives. Mere months after many of us began medical school in new localities amongst new communities, all was suddenly fragmented.
On Monday morning, a medical assistant finds me with a nasal swab in hand. I scribble my signature and temperature on the form he hands me. “Ready, Maria?” he asks, and then laughs when I groan in response. I tilt my head, close my eyes and wait for the worst part to be over. After 15 minutes of waiting in the student workroom, he tells me I am COVID-19 negative and set for the week.
The COVID-19 pandemic and its associated lockdown precipitated wide-ranging effects on nearly all aspects of our society. Perhaps some of the most severely affected patients were those fighting cancer. These patients have little physiologic resistance to COVID-19 and accordingly experience higher morbidity and mortality when infected.