New Haven, CT
This essay 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.
0600: Two hours until shift as an emergency psychiatrist (there are still psych emergencies during a pandemic). Does trading sleep for exercise make you more or less likely to die of COVID-19? Choose sleep. Because that’s what heroes do.
0700: Hospital has forbidden makeup. Is this feminist, anti-feminist, both, or neither? Spray unprofessional amounts of perfume on wrists to test for anosmia later.
0745: Good lord, why is the hospital valet stand open? Whoops. Just directing traffic. Phew.
0750: Cafeteria self-serve oatmeal bar is closed. Too embarrassing to ask for customary five scoops of brown sugar, so settle for one. It’s OK. You’re a hero.
0800: Hospital has ample masks and gloves. Blink back tears of gratitude. Heroes don’t cry.
0900: Eye blue, narrow-mouth Nalgene bottle as if it were a live grenade exploding with hidden coronavirus particles. Make a note to switch to disposable bottles so you don’t end up drinking so much bleach.
1000: Stop to read inspirational hospital poster encouraging self-care and exercise without mentioning whether getting up early to do so makes you more likely to die. Consider posting rogue sign proclaiming “Heroes eat the whole thing of cookies.”
PATIENT: I don’t have anywhere to go. Don’t discharge me.
HERO: I realize that, but—
PATIENT: Last night I stood in a portapotty and burned scraps of paper to stay warm.
HERO: Like I said, they closed a bunch of shelter beds for social distancing—
PATIENT: Should I commit a crime? I could go to jail. Doesn’t sound bad.
HERO: Don’t commit a crime. There’s a pandemic.
PATIENT: Can I stay until lunch and watch TV?
1200: After much hand-sanitizing, place pulse oximeter clip on your left index finger. If oxygen level is 99% or above, no worries. If 95% or lower, order yourself a COVID test. 97. Shit.
1245: Is it too late to become a real hero rather than a psychiatrist?
1300: Run into former nemesis doctor who always pushes you around. Have a pleasant strategic conversation because now we’re heroes and there’s no time for drama. It’s nice.
1400: Does anosmia make perfume smell like hand sanitizer?
1500: Commandeer resident who was an attorney before med school to give free legal advice and help witness new will.
1600: Tweet about the resident and social worker who witnessed your new will and how it, weirdly, wasn’t weird at all.
1700: Hear stories about young doctors being intubated. Start texting people to say you love them, decide this is too dramatic, and ask instead about sourdough starters.
1800: Cafeteria is out of pierogi. Pierogis? No matter. Heroes survive on humidity. Like orchids.
1900: Who picks such catchy cafeteria songs? If you could read my mind, looooove.
1930: Nobody has commented on your poignant tweets.
2000: Pass exhausted respiratory therapist wheeling a ventilator, band-aid over his nose to prevent chafing from his mask. Give him a heroic thumbs-up, which he heroically returns. Heroes don’t cry.
2100: Back at home, douse belongings in bleach. Wonder if makeup ban is secretly about avoiding mascara-stained cheeks. How does the rest go? If you could read my mind, looooove. Gordon Lightfoot! If you could read my mind. Classic.
2200: Choose exercise, because that’s what heroes do. Set alarm for 0600. What was the rest of the song?
0312: Suddenly awake. Of course. Heroes often fail. That’s the line. Stare at the ceiling until it’s time for 0600 exercise and 0800 shift.
0600: Choose sleep. That’s what heroes do.
Kristin Budde is an emergency psychiatrist at Yale-New Haven Hospital. She hopes you’re doing ok through all of this. Opinions are her own, clearly.