How a Couple of Emergency Doctors Protect Their Kids From COVID-19
By Kirstin Weerdenburg Yeh
Photo © doutorfotografo/Twenty20
Apr 14, 2020
Being home all day with my kids is tiring for many reasons, but I'm sure I don’t need to tell you about that. You’re parents, too.
What has become even more exhausting, however, is my work as a pediatric emergency physician. The “COVID-19 era” has changed how I do things — it’s a whole new ball game. And these significant and radical shifts to my way of life have affected my home life, too.
The First Change: Preparation
How I prepare for shifts was the first change. I mean, I always prepared by getting in my hospital clothes, packing a meal, kissing my kids goodbye and leaving — without another thought.
But those simple days are very much gone.
Now I have to not only prepare to leave, but I also have to have a plan for when I come home. Because it’s when I come home that I could potentially bring home COVID-19.
These are truly unprecedented times. Read about how a family is trying to protect their kids when both parents have COVID-19 here.
We’re Getting Decontaminated
Here’s how it all goes down before my shift:
I shower and get dressed in any old clothes. I tie my hair back in a bun, pack a meal in a washable/wipeable bag, leave a container outside the back door and one outside of the shower.
Lastly, I make sure that there is a clear path from the back door to the shower. Then I kiss my kids and leave.
And that’s just part one.
Once I arrive at the emergency department, I change into my hospital scrubs and shoes, put on my protective eyewear and mask — which I will wear for the duration of my shift and change as needed — and place my phone in a bag.
At this point, I can finally begin my shift.
On the Job
As I work through the COVID-19 era, I have grown to appreciate the process of putting on my personal protective equipment (PPE) for each patient encounter.
The same goes for proper removal, which I do in order to protect myself and others.
But even with this appreciation, it is exhausting to do it over and over again.
"If I don't call ahead or do my due diligence, my two-year-old will be running at me full-tilt for a hug and kiss."
I see patients for a variety of complaints — but these days we're seeing about 1/3 the number of patients we typically do. All across Canada, pediatric emergency departments are seeing unprecendently low volumes of patients.
Many have hypothesized that this could be due to the fact that children aren't in daycare and school, and therefore there are less opportunities to spread germs. Whatever the case, we're concerned that some people may be waiting or avoiding going in to hospitals, leaving them potentially vulnerable to whatever medical condition they have.
Despite this decrease, I’m practising proper physical distancing from my colleagues — a challenge, of course, because they aren’t just people I work with. Many are my friends.
My Post-Shift Routine
When my shift is done, I remove my protective eyewear, mask, scrubs and shoes at the hospital and change back into the clothes and shoes I wore for my commute to work.
I text our nanny to let her know I am coming home, so she can prepare the kids to stay together, but separate from me in one part of our house while I am doing my post-shift routine.
If I don't call ahead or do my due diligence, my two-year-old will be running at me full-tilt for a hug and kiss.
Once I get to the back door, I put my keys, cell phone, shoes, bag and jacket in the container I left there. I head directly for the shower, where I remove the clothes I’m still wearing and put them in the container next to the shower.
"It doesn’t end there. I then retrace my steps and sanitize anything else I touched on my way home."
I then take a hot shower.
When done, I take the bin with the potentially contaminated clothes to the washing machine and wash them on the sanitary setting.
Next, I head to the back door and sanitize all the items I had in the other container.
It doesn’t end there. I then retrace my steps and sanitize anything else I touched on my way home.
At this point in my post-shift routine, I extensively moisturize my very dry and sore hands — I am washing them so much, just like you.
I also make sure to give attention to my face, which is tight and sore from wearing a mask for eight hours.
Then, finally — insert exhausted sigh here — I happily go see my kids and give them a big hug and kiss. I typically work about 10 to 12 shifts per month in the emergency department, so I do this same routine for each of those shifts.
"And to top all of this off, as if there weren’t enough stresses for everyone right now, my spouse also works in emergency medicine."
I liken this personal equipment preparation to that of astronauts or deep-sea divers, where any malfunction of their equipment can have life-threatening consequences. I think these are pretty cool professions, so I’m happy to compare myself to them.
But while an astronaut or deep-sea diver is trying to prevent any leaks in their suit to avoid personal injury, a misstep for me could not only affect me, but those I love around me.
This is why I feel like the effect COVID-19 has had on emergency workers is unprecedented, different and, frankly, a bit staggering.
A Family Who Saves Together
And to top all of this off, as if there weren’t enough stresses for everyone right now, my spouse also works in emergency medicine.
He lives in another province right now, where he has been doing his residency training for the past five years.
Like me, he performs the same routine that I do.
He wishes he could be here to help, but sadly for us we are unsure when we will see him again in person.
When the Doctors Become Patients
Our extended family also lives out of the province and country. This worries us both greatly.
If I get sick with COVID-19 — and as we know, many healthcare professionals around the world have — we have to put a plan in place for childcare for our two children, with very limited options locally.
So, as the days and shifts go by in this pandemic, I keep hopeful that me and my family will remain healthy. I look forward to the end, but I am unsure what the future will look like in my profession and home life after this. This might just be my new normal. In the meantime, I will try to sneak in some R&R when I can.
But who am I kidding?
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