Intensive Care Unit Physicians at
Univ. of California-San Francisco
Johns Hopkins University
University of Kansas
University of Alabama

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This essay is part of our new series, Flattened By the Curve, which features the voices of doctors, nurses, healthcare workers, and others on the front lines against COVID-19. For information on how to submit, click here.

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Many of the narratives in the media around physicians caring for COVID patients have focused on predominantly male physicians without significant childcare responsibilities. This piece is an inside glimpse of a real-time text chain of four women critical care physicians across the country caring for COVID patients and navigating their dual identities as women in medicine.

Week 1

“I’m doing better with morning sickness, just tired. Coronavirus is keeping me busy. My immunosuppressed patients are worried.”

Week 2

“We had our first case this weekend but was well enough to discharge.”

“I’m in clinic right now and we have another covid case that just showed up in the clinic. Be well, friends.”

Week 3

“Everyone here is basically ignoring social distancing. It’s making me really mad.”

“I had to cancel my trip in two weeks. I’m super sad.”

“It’s ok to grieve. We had to cancel baby’s first birthday party and lots of family flying in.”

“We are cancelling all the clinics we can and moving to Tele-medicine.”

“Our N95s are under lock and key. We know we will run out. I’m scared, but I’m more nervous that I’m going to pass it to my patients before I know I’m sick. I don’t think I’ll ever get over that if I do.”

“We are sheltering in place. We are going to try splitting each day — one half one person works and other is with kids and then switch.”

“Kids have been in Daddy Day School all day — schools closed for the rest of the year.”

Week 4

“I am having anxiety about being around patients if we don’t have enough PPE.”

“Yesterday literally had 9 hrs of COVID meetings but today was better bc could only work half the day!”

“We have opened up a fifth ICU service to cover for now — when we need it — and we are prepared as can be expected. This is all just so terrifying.”

“Text I got after I told an NP her COVID PUI not going to get a bronch: thanks for assuming I’m not the faculty and that my faculty is male.”

“My patient texted my nurse and said can’t wait to meet the doctor and get HIS opinion. Surprised who popped up on video visit? :)”

Week 5

“Potty training: A small bit of normal life making me feel less anxious today.”

“Aww nice! We were fully potty trained but now regressing haha.”

“They won’t test me until I have symptoms.”

“We’re not far behind Italy.”

“I’ve asked my boss if I’m allowed to go work in NY.”

“I feel like everyone is needed at home or I’d go.”

Week 6

“Just got tested. I’m trying really hard not to freak out. Have had a sore throat and runny nose.”

“I’ve had a sore throat, too. But even if you are positive (which you may not be) there’s a ~90% chance you’ll be fine!”

“I totally sympathize. Sore throat and cough this morning, pretty sure from kiddos, but starting work at ICU…”

Week 7

“Wish me luck for COVID ICU! Those fellowship scrubs don’t fit the same way they did 2 kids ago! Did you wear a white coat at work or just scrubs? Did you tell your neighbors that you will be exposed?”

“Rothy’s are a good idea. I was just going to ditch my sneakers.”

“I start nights in two days…meal prepping now.”

“Are you doing any quarantine from kids/family?”

“No, and still nursing and pumping and kissing them!”

“My partner’s good. He decided he wanted to be around me until one of us has symptoms because not seeing each other for months was too hard. But otherwise we’re distancing from the rest of the world.”

“What a way to get brought into the medical family world <3 #ThanksNoThanksCOVID”

“Be safe my friend”

Week 8

“Sorry, was doing bedtime with baby. Things are okay on my end. I’m being asked to do more at work.”

“Ladies. Crap day. Baby woke up every hour overnight because she misses me. Got home late from ICU and baby was already asleep and toddler had epic tantrum on potty and sitter canceled for tomorrow.”

“I am surprised at how much toddler is aware of what is going on. He keeps saying, ‘You cannot go outside because bad virus.’”

“Hang in there. You’re an amazing doc and mama <3”

Week 9

“Happy Birthday!”

“Thank you sweet friends <3 I miss you all and can’t wait until we can reunite and have a massive group hug.”

“Are you all seeing PE with COVID?”

“I coughed some last night and started to panic but it went away and I was able to do 21 miles on the bike so I’m probably fine.”

“My bro begged me to wear my N95 all day because of some studies showing aerosolization. Just to be safe.”

Week 10

“My boss called me today and asked me if I”m willing to go to NYC.”

“Sending you a lot of love. I can send you my N95 in the mail if it will help.”

“I have my ultrasound and instead of being excited, we’ve been discussing the safety of me going and how my husband cannot come.”

“Did you guys see that tweet? I have heard a lot from female colleagues about how mental load is even worse than usual for women during this pandemic.”

“Should we write an article on being women ICU doctors during this time of COVID?”

COVID-19 has taken many things from us so far. It has taken lives, freedom, and a sense of safety. The work of a physician is never easy and the work of a physician during COVID-19 even less so. Female physicians face unique challenges that can add to their physical and emotional burden, but they can also be a source of great strength and compassion in the medical field. We must hear their voices and listen. Only then can we support them. Only then can we truly thrive.

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Dr. Lekshmi Santhosh is a Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Hospital Medicine physician practicing in San Francisco. She lives with her husband and two babies under 3. She thanks you all for reading and sheltering-in-place and flattening the curve.

Dr. Michelle Sharp is a Pulmonary Critical Care Physician in Baltimore, MD. She lives with her husband and toddler and her family is expecting a new arrival this summer. She and her family thank you for staying at home to flatten the curve.

Dr. Nancy Stewart is a Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Sleep Medicine physician practicing in Kansas City. She is married with two toddlers. While sheltering-in-place, she continues to see patients via telehealth to keep her patients safe and at home.

Dr. Gretchen Winter is a pulmonary and critical care physician in Alabama who is currently volunteering in NYC and wearing a mask. When not in a hotel she lives with six fur babies (who are also not fully potty-trained).