Family Medicine Physician
Legacy Mt Hood Medical Center
This is part of our 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.
My Dad was drafted to Vietnam when he turned 18. He didn’t try and get out of it. He got drunk with his friends and prepared for the worst. When I saw the pandemic coming, I signed up to leave my rural clinic and work in the hospital. In the background were stories of inadequate PPE leading to nurses and doctors ending up on vents or worse—dead. I wasn’t planning on dying, though no one usually is. I also wasn’t planning on staying away. I signed up to be a doctor in order to help in situations like this. I longed for the front line, not because of some egotistical heroism, or to be a selfless martyr. I longed for it because it was where I belonged.
Battle-naïve soldiers are often eager for battle before they’ve become veterans. There is an invincibility complex predicated on their own belief that they are too loved, too special, too careful, too quick, to be killed. This is all shattered by the meaningless entropy of war. Once they see their buddy cut down by a random mortal shell or a stray bullet, they realize it could happen to them. They become more careful, less daring. The randomness of who lives and who dies never fades though. Medicine, too, can be an equally eye-opening experience. I’ve had colleagues pass from cancer, patients torn down in their prime, children taken from their parents. I can eat all the kale, and run all the 5Ks, and wear all the sunscreen until my heart is content, but it doesn’t change the cold reality. Diseases rage. People die. Sometimes our best measures aren’t enough. When I enlisted to work in the midst of a pandemic, nothing was promised.
I asked my Dad why he was ready to go to Vietnam, when he knew that many other young men were dying in a seemingly pointless struggle. Wouldn’t he avoid the front if he could? He said he would only go for one reason — because his friends were going, and he would not be left behind.
When my wife wondered why I’d signed up to work in the hospital for the preeminent wave of sick patients, she never did so aloud. She knew why. Still, it must have felt like an unnecessary risk. We have three young children. Surely someone else could go? In the end, we both knew I’d go, regardless of who else would.
As I watched my local hospital numbers grow slowly, I sensed the time was coming soon. I had a plan to barricade myself from my family, to keep them from getting sick. I knew how to live singularly, with a goal-driven perspective—save as many lives as possible. I woke up each day thinking, This could be it. This could be it.
My father was drafted to go to Vietnam, but he never went. The war ended a few short months later. As of today, the COVID-19 surge in Oregon never happened — not in the way we expected. Our hospitals remain steady. People are not dying in droves. I was never called to the front. Instead of feeling relief, I feel guilt. In the end, all we can do is answer the call, and if the time comes, it comes. For now, I’m waiting by the phone.
Sean Schulz is a father to three boys, owner of two dogs, husband to one wife, and recorder holder for sleep-deprived. He has been published in Maudlin House, Entropy, Pidgeonholes, Bull Magazine, Litro, Train, and Ghost Parachute. You can find his work at www.srschulzwriting.com. He strongly recommends against injecting UV light or disinfectant to prevent or combat COVID-19.