Today I am thinking about work. Specifically, what work we are all prioritizing in this upside down time. When social distancing started, I had high hopes for my productivity, but like most parents, I think I underestimated how hard it would be to take care of kids out of school and work simultaneously. I have heard this phrase repeated amongst my working mom friends this week and seen it on Twitter (though I don’t know the precise source) “you are not working from home; you are at your home during a crisis trying to work.” I mostly feel like I am trying to work when I have a moment, and my methods are changing.
I wanted to start writing blog posts, for example, the day that I started working from home. But things have been upside down. And just now I start to settle.
The idea behind this space is to document in real time what life is like for people in this time. I have been conducting remote interviews with folks affected by the changes we are all experiencing. Today I share the thoughts of a knowledgeable, lovely friend who practices Pathology in the Seattle area (and wishes to remain anonymous). I can tell you that she is one of the most resourceful and optimistic people I have talked to in this time, and though I hate to lean on tropes, she is very inspirational. The interview was conducted on March 21, but the details are very much still worth documenting.
Tell us a little (or a lot) about your background, and how you came to work where you do.
I am a community practice pathologist (AP/CP/Cyto) in the greater Seattle area. I am currently the anatomic pathology director at my hospital and the chair of the blood utilization committee. I was a microbiology major in undergrad.
When is the first time you remember hearing about Covid-19? What was the source? How did you feel at the time?
When I first heard about Covid it was confined to Wuhan. I initially expected that it would be an outbreak which affected one city, area or country and then did not effectively transmit to other areas.
Please tell us the date you are completing this form, and how your opinion has changed since that time. Was there one moment when you recall your attitude toward this situation changed?
As I followed it on the news, I became more concerned. At work, 3 or 4 of us talk on a regular basis about current events, politics, health care and such. I was concerned about Covid (but not really truly worried). I did get a bit miffed that my colleagues dismissed it with comments such as "the world is ready for a pandemic, we are overpopulated anyways."
My husband is a former biochemist and we watched with scientific fascination as the Johns Hopkins website with case tracking showed increased cases with cases leaving the Wuhan area and increasing in numbers. I still didn't really believe that it would become a global pandemic but I wondered about social impacts and over-reactions of governments. Watching the shutdown of Wuhan and reports from hospitals and health care workers was quite concerning.
The moment that I started being really worried and taking very seriously Covid as a possible pandemic, was when the first cases were reported at our local hospital. Evergreen is the hospital that is the closest hospital to where I grew up and 15 minutes from my parent's house. It became too close for comfort.
I felt like the alarmist at work and church when I kept saying that Covid needed to be taken seriously. I spent a Friday morning at work sending e-mails and calling seniors in my church to ensure that they were aware of the possible dangers from Covid. That weekend was supposed to be a special church service weekend with a visiting pastor and extra church services. The church board would not consider cancelling services, but they did a robocall to all church members with my recommendations. I don't know if it many any impact but at least I did what was necessary. (my grandfather was infamous for making health announcements in church and telling people to listen to him since he was also an MD).
Two weeks later, the governor cancelled all gatherings of greater than 200 people.
How has work changed for you during this time? Have your case loads changed? What about interaction with colleagues and other healthcare practitioners? What policies has your hospital put in place to limit the spread or protect healthcare workers?
Work volumes have decreased since elective cases have been cancelled for the last week. In response to the lower case volumes predicted for the next several months, my salary has been cut.
Most of my interactions with clinical colleagues is already from a distance. My office is set up in such a way that people naturally stand at the open door and talk to me without coming fully in the door. I have discontinued buying food at work, including mochas.
My hospital is trying to limit the spread as much as possible. They screen everyone's temperature as they enter the building and only limited doors are accessible from the outside. I can no longer sneak in the back entrance but have to go through the main entrance. I keep wondering if that is going to increase my chances of getting Covid.
All in person meetings have been cancelled or done remotely.
What are you hearing from other healthcare providers in your daily practice about Covid-19? How are they feeling and handling this time?
My hospital has been excellent communicating about their response to Covid. We have at least weekly calls to bring everyone up to date about PPE supplies, pharmacology/availability of treatments to our specific hospital, changes to surgery schedules, number o f cases, status each department, etc. We have a truly amazing CMO and Chief of staff and my respect for them has only increased. I still feel safe going to work since I know what is going on and what is being done about issues such as sparse PPE.
Though predicting the outcome of this situation is fraught, do you think the practice of medicine will change as a result of Covid-19? How?
Medicine is going to change with this situation. I hope that it brings a new awareness to the importance of medical providers and a push for supporting medical care systems instead of focusing on cutting costs.
Has this situation affected you personally (ie outside of work)? Do you feel increased stress? If so, how are you coping with this?
Outside of work, I am attempting to keep myself informed (easy to do since my husband and mother-in-law are news junkies). My kids are out of school for at least another 6 weeks and we are confining ourselves to home so we have been spending more time together. It has made my weekends more relaxing since we have nowhere to go.
I have been also focusing on my vegetable gardening since it helps me feel more prepared for bad times ahead. I realize that I will never be able to grow a fully self-sufficient garden but it just makes me feel less worried. (Irrelevant side note: If you read or saw the martian, you know that Mark Watney was able to survive on Mars since he grew his own potatoes) I suppose it is my equivalent of toilet paper hoarding.
With my case load cut and subsequent pay cut, I am planning to make the most of the "extra" time that I will have with my kids. I fear that they will reassign me to another department but anything outside of pathology is completely outside of my skill set. I have decided to not worry about that aspect until I need to.
I want to thank my friend for her time. It was great to hear from her early in this situation, specifically because her area of the country was so far ahead of mine in the crisis and she seemed to be getting through the days. We continue to talk, and she is still doing well, or as well as can be expected.
That’s all for today. Stay safe out there everyone!