As a Mother and an Emergency Doctor, I Want What You Want — The Safety of Our Kids
By KIRSTIN WEERDENBURG YEH
Photo © estanisbs/Twenty20
Jun 4, 2021
Just like the COVID-19 pandemic has evolved, with new variants, vaccine rollouts, lockdowns, gradual reopenings and returns to a "new normal," my life as a pediatric emergency physician and parent has also evolved during this time.
Last year, near the beginning of the pandemic, I wrote an article for CBC Parents about the radical change to my typical routine before, during and after my shifts in the Pediatric Emergency Department at IWK Health in Halifax, Nova Scotia, as well as the change to my life at home with my family due to this.
These changes were extreme but seemed necessary as we learned in those early days about front-line health care workers dying from COVID-19 infections. And we were still very much in the early stages of learning about the virus.
I was very afraid, like so many other people — not just those on the front lines.
To see how much Kirstin Weerdenburg Yeh's life has changed in a year, see where she was at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic here.
I was afraid of getting COVID-19 while at work, afraid of dying and afraid of transmitting it to my kids. Then as we learned more about the virus, I was adjusting, readjusting and then readjusting again, like many other people. Life and my work had changed, and as we came in and out of the waves of the pandemic in Nova Scotia, these constant readjustments to these changes were draining.
How much we have learned about this virus over time, how it spreads, how it affects those infected with it, how to care for those infected by it and what we can do to prevent further transmission, is mindboggling to me. New information is always at our door or rather right in our faces, and at times I'm completely overwhelmed by it all. As I'm sure many of you are, too. But at the same time, I know for me as a pediatric emergency physician and mom, it's absolutely necessary to be aware while I'm on the front lines.
My Old Life, My New Worries
At home, I was once one of those people that would go to the grocery store just to “pick up a few things” a couple times a week.
I would never think of exercising at home, and I loved occasionally enjoying the great restaurants in my city. But as restrictions eased — and even being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 — I felt conflicted about going out of my home to these places.
I felt good about my immune system’s ability to fight the infection, but I was terrified that I might contract it in these settings and transmit the infection to others, most notably my family, my patients and even their parents who come with them to the Pediatric Emergency Department.
The Rise of Child Cases
Then during this third wave of the pandemic in Nova Scotia, as we saw evidence of increased transmissibility of the new variants, many more children were infected with COVID-19.
I was torn about sending my children to preschool and school.
For one, I didn't know how these variants of the virus would impact them. And two, exposure in the family can have an impact on my ability to work on the front lines, caring for children in Nova Scotia — whether I contract the illness, or have to isolate because of a close contact case, too much is at stake.
"I was torn about sending my children to preschool and school."
And transmission or exposure has a trickle-down effect. When I don't work in the Pediatric Emergency Department, a burden is then placed on my colleagues to work my shifts. The thought of this made me feel heavy.
We learned over time in this wave that, luckily, many of the kids that contracted COVID-19 in our province had mild symptoms and fared well, which reassures us.
But we are still on high alert for those children that might have the Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C) associated with COVID-19, which is rare, but can be serious and even deadly.
While at work, I always ensure that I am wearing my personal protective equipment, to protect myself, my patients and their parents.
It takes time and effort to put this all on and remove it for each patient I see, and it used to feel daunting, but now seems like a normal part of my work routine.
Wearing this and maintaining social distancing does at times make connections with children and their parents feel less personal and detached, but it’s necessary to keep us safe. Though I have to say, when I examine a child and smile behind my mask at them and see them smile back, it seems so much more special than it did before.
The other part of my work that continues to be challenging due to these precautions are my connections with colleagues, as well as those that we are teaching on shift — the medical students, residents and fellows. These connections are incredibly valuable to make sure we work together cohesively as a team to ensure safe patient care, as well as ensure the highest standards of training for the doctors of the future. I think we are trying to make the best of our ability to connect behind our face masks and eye protection by ensuring eye contact and speaking to each other more clearly behind our masks.
"But what I think I've realized, and perhaps some of you have too, is that a lot of the adjustments work well, and they are good, if not better than they used to be."
We have also been training ourselves through simulation exercises over and over again on how to work together most effectively while caring for the sickest children — all the while keeping everyone safe.
It's impossible to say which present-day adjustments we've made to life in the time of COVID-19 will stick. We can guess, but there's really no certainty. The situation is, in fact, always developing. But what I think I've realized, and perhaps some of you have too, is that a lot of the adjustments work well, and they are good, if not better than they used to be.
As a parent of young children and as a doctor that cares for sick children with all kinds of infectious illnesses, I sure do not get as sick as I used to, which is a huge reward to me, as I once considered both of these jobs “occupational hazards.”
So, for now, I try to stop thinking about the way things were in the “good old days” and try to think about all the “better new days” ahead of us.
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