How Doctors Are Coping With COVID-19

You can find yourself asking, “Am I doing this correctly, with every precaution you take and stressor you handle during these unprecedented times?” “Not only do you care about your physical health but also your mental health and your family’s general well-being are significant factors. For everything related to daily life and COVID-19 there are no blanket answers. Yet we asked doctors for a better sense of understanding on what they are doing outside the workplace.

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Meet with the board of medical review for Verywell Health. These board-certified and licensed physicians are not only reviewing our articles for accuracy and continuing to care for their patients, but are also navigating how to keep their own families safe and keep up with their own self care. During a Zoom call with Rob Parisi (SVP and General Manager), Nicole Kwan (Associate Editorial Director), and Anisa Arsenault (Senior Editor) from Verywell, they gave a frank look at what their daily looks like right now, as well as some general advice for writers.

How Have You Explained What’s Going On To Your Own Family And Friends?

Huma Sheik, MD (Neurologist, New York , NY): One of the challenges for me was explaining that this is different from the flu to people who aren’t in the medical profession, including family members. I think people are beginning to catch on now, but I had to explain why it’s so much more contagious, and how much higher hospitalization and mortality levels are. This is the first time in my life that I was afraid to receive something from a nurse. I think it’s necessary to communicate that we’re scared to catch it to people who aren’t in the medical sector too.

Anisha Shah, MD (Cardiologist, Pittsburgh, PA): My family is not in the epicenter — we’re a good 400 kilometers away — so I think the viewpoint we’ve taken here is a better one. I’ve got a 16-year-old and a common question is: Why can’t I go out with my friends? My entire football season has been canceled; why can’t we kick the ball around? I understand you do this for the more vulnerable people. You may not be in that category, but you will be one day, so you will deserve the same kind of thought. It works-so far! That’s the main thing, really: take a more “for all” approach than “for me.”

How Are You Taking Care Of Yourselves, Both Mentally And Physically?

Chris Vincent, MD (Family Physicist, Seattle, WA): I got outside, exercised, spent time with my wife and dog — just trying to get COVID-19 off my mind. Since we were the first epicenter and one of the first states to enforce social distancing and self-isolation, it has been a month of stay home. It was stressful I confess.

Anju Goel, MD , MPH (Internist and Public Health Physicist, San Francisco, CA): I discovered a great Down Dog yoga app that has countless exercises you can do on your own, anywhere. Following on is really easy and so much fun.

Sheik: You need time not to be watching the news. Headspace gives health-care staff free subscriptions. I downloaded it, and made it into my routine.

Priyanka Chugh, MD (Gastroenterologist, New York , NY): A lot of the old rom-com movies are seeing something that is working for me. I watched Bollywood films only to relax and float away in utter mentallessness. We do social distancing coffee sessions with my grandparents, who live about 3 miles away, separately, once a week. It provides something for us to look forward to every Sunday.

Meredith Bull, ND (Naturopathic Doctor, Los Angeles, CA): for me, exercise was a huge thing and I recommended it to friends , colleagues, and a couple of the patients I work with. I think it’s probably easier for other people to blend in than ever before. When we like, we can find out, because online stuff is available. We don’t have a gym commute.

When You Have To Go Out, Are You Wearing Face Masks?

Chugh: I’m in New York City where masks are mandatory and I’ve always been wearing a mask. I’m always on hospital calls, and I’m still going in and out of the building. It makes me feel like I’m defending my mother, because she’s been pretty good to help us out with the babies.

Vincent: We don’t wear masks if we are out walking and there are tons of distance between ourselves and the next person. But if we’re anywhere we may be within ten feet from someone else, we ‘re wearing them. We ‘re pretty vigilant on that. Last week when I was at work people didn’t wear masks, probably because they’re trying to save them for people who really needed them. We continue to test patients and ask others to wear masks, even though they have no symptoms. Yet still, we do telehealth visits more now.

Shah: It’s not compulsory to wear a mask here but there’s also a very high number of people over 60. And I wear a mask when I go out, and my kids do likewise. I believe I’ve seen more and more people wearing them as the weeks progressed. Nearly all wearing a mask at the grocery store last week. 

Are You As Apprehensive Of Grocery Shopping As The Rest Of Us?

Chugh: When I go to the grocery store, I get a little nervous, particularly when I see someone wearing scrubs. I always wonder, do they come out of hospital? Are they scrubbing clean? What happens?! Since there are still two-way aisles in my grocery store, I try to get to the corner, let the other person pass, then walk into the aisle. That might be unfair, but I don’t know their location, and a lot of people are still not wearing masks in my grocery store.

Shah: I don’t think we’re scared but our approach is far more focused. We seek, once a week, to go to one location. Our grocery stores have taken precautions such as single entry, single exit, staggered entrances and one-way aisles. However, it certainly does make you think twice when you pick up things. I’m just trying to take stuff that are packed in bulk, instead of hitting several items. I am more aware of that than I was before.

Bull: I think it’s such a perfect opportunity to look at the local opportunities. I recently signed up for a CSA — an agriculture sponsored by the State — and the produce is absolutely beautiful. It was shipped right to my door so my end was not interactive. Personally, I have to prepare more, because of that, I eat more fruits and vegetables.

What Do Your Sanitization Habits Look Like? Is It Over The Top, For Instance, To Spray Down a Delivery Box?

Jonathan B. Jassey, DO (Pediatrist, Bellmore, NY): My family opens packages outside the garage and leaves the boxes — and bags from the supermarket — for a day or two inside. I strip off, throw everything in the wash and go straight to the shower when I come home from work. I recently purchased a UV sanitation box to disinfect small things such as my mask, my keys and my camera. I usually have my phone on my hip at work during the day, but even though I’m totally secured, that’s not it.

Goel: It makes sense to sanitize things from outside when you move in. I don’t think devoting much resources to sanitizing surfaces in your home is the best use of time once you’re inside. In public areas and healthcare facilities, sanitizing high-touch surfaces is more of a problem — any area where you have large numbers of young, different people coming in and out. It’s not so much a concern inside your house, because it’s you and your family members who touch all those surfaces and you’re all already exposed to each other and breathing the same air.

Bull: I live with another person and we’re putting together a sanitizing station right next to our house. With alcohol swabs we wipe down our phones and keys and when they dry we go wash our hands. I clean the doorknob inside just occasionally. Those are the big improvements that I’ve made. I’m not concerned about anything else that I hold, as long as I walk in and my hands are clean.

Are You And Other Members Of Your Household Driving Each Other Crazy? Have You Found Any Upsides To Isolation?

Goel: I’ve never been with my daughter so much time, but now she has no choice. It’s either me or nobody! We have had nice long dinners and watched Netflix shows of all kinds. It’s been a very good time for bonding and I really appreciate it because this is the end. She’s going to go to school pretty early, hoping in the fall that everything goes as planned with colleges. This is the one bright lining I would claim. I have also learnt from other people that they have a lot of quality family time together.

Jassey: Finding a family is helping me get my mind off medication. Whether watching a TV show or playing board games — which before this had been almost non-existent — family time allows you to decompress.

What Are Some Approaches For Talking About COVID-19 With Kids?

Jassey: While I think the age group really depends on that, integrity is important. Children may not be reading newspapers and watching news every day but they are clearly learning how important this is, particularly from us as providers. And they note that there is much more family time. I have three daughters—13, 11, and 7—so I have different understandings of a 13-year-old and a 7-year-old. The younger patients in my office do not understand why we do what we do, including wearing face masks. And we’re going to make it a challenge to try not to frighten them, by doing stuff like behaving like superheroes.

David Ozeri, MD (Rheumatologist, Ramat Gan, Israel): I have a ten-year-old, an eight-year-old and a five-year-old. I figured all the preparation would be a huge challenge, and not being able to spend time outside with their mates. But I am very surprised how easy it was for them to adjust to their new schedule and constraints. The fact that I have to start going on this was one bigger reason for them. I think they’re seeing me being a bit more nervous. I had to really interact with them to let them know that I’m taking the right steps and I’m being cautious. They clearly comprehend the situation overall, and recognize that this is something unique and infectious.

Doru Paul, MD (Oncologist, New York , NY): I work at Weill Cornell Medicine, which is literally the epicenter. I have two sons, 10 and 16. One of the things I’m telling them is they shouldn’t go out too often and not meet up with their friends to protect their 83-year-old grandmother. I’m just trying to keep them as busy as possible so that they’re not worrying too much about this. They asked me what is going on and they asked me to explain how the patients are. I’m giving them some facts, but I don’t go into any specifics or say any horror stories. I do my best to keep them in a healthy mental state.

Wow Would You Encourage People To Take Protective Measures Like Social Distancing More Seriously?

Bull: For any adult not taking things seriously at this point, I think there are probably two things at stake: first, likely not really knowing what’s going on, and second, a reaction resulting from a fear of change or a fear of losing control. It can be good to approach certain people with that in mind, or to have some amount of compassion and understanding. And sometimes people won’t adjust the way they work. I think energy is probably better spent on yourself at that level, instead of trying to alter the behavior of others.

Vincent: I know that people are feeling a lot of pent-up pressure; they want to get out of it, they want to go back to life as usual. Still, for a long time, I don’t think life will be “back to normal.” We’ll just have to get used to standing apart and being careful to clean the surfaces and wash our heads, not shake hands. Ultimately we’re going to lose and people are going to go back to those old habits. But I’m worried about getting it done too fast.

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What Else Can People Do To Stay Healthy?

Goel: I will advise patients with non-essential appointments cancelled in-person to try and arrange telehealth-users. I ‘m worried that if people ignore them for too long, non-critical problems could become important problems , especially people who have chronic conditions like diabetes who need the ongoing support. So I also urge people to continue accessing healthcare when they need it, but to do so in different ways, including not in-person to minimize the risk of transmitting COVID-19.

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