Medicalworkers risk exposing themselves – they are self-isolating from their families to protect them
- Medical workers all over the world are self-isolating from their families while working on the frontlines to battle the novel virus.
- For health workers still in the same residence as family members, a meticulous disinfection process when arriving home is critical to keeping their loved ones safe.
- Other families have opted to distance themselves entirely, having family members move out or finding separate accommodations while treating Covid-19 patients.
- Business Insider talked to several health workers, who wished to keep their identity hidden due to the nature of their work, about how they're coping with self-isolation.
- For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.
A 31-year-old anesthesiologist in New York City has performed countless intubations on both diagnosed and undiagnosed Covid-19 patients. Although intubations are typically harmless to the performing physician, the aerosolised procedure now puts her at a high risk of exposure to the coronavirus.
Typically, the "infectious laughs" of her 10-month-old daughter or a hug from her husband greet her at home. However, after putting her life on the line during another grueling shift at her Manhattan hospital, the mother is met with silence and an empty one-bedroom apartment.
"Never, never in my life would I ever have thought that my work would cause me to leave my family," the New York physician who wished to remain anonymous due to the nature of her work told Insider. "But I still remember the day I took the Hippocratic oath on the first day of medical school. I'm a physician just as much as I am a mother - and duty calls."
Like millions of health workers on the frontlines of battling the pandemic, the anesthesiologist is self-isolating from her family to prevent infecting them with the novel virus.
"It was a hard decision to make, but knowing that I would have to go into work and consistently expose myself having this unknown factor of protective equipment, I didn't want to take the risk," the NYC doctor told Business Insider. "I weighed the risks and benefits, and the risk would be ultimately exposure to my husband and to my daughter."
With critical personal protective equipment like face masks and medical gowns reaching dire shortages across the nation, medical workers are at even higher risk of carrying the virus when they come home to their families. For this reason, they're going to great lengths to protect their families from Covid-19 at home. Some nurses are sleeping in their attic, and other doctors have moved into tents in their garage.
Health workers living in the same residence as their families often have a meticulous disinfection process
For those still living in the same residence as their family members, many undergo a meticulous disinfection process when arriving home.
One medical oncologist in Colorado is self-isolating, staying in a guest bedroom in her home. Being careful not to contaminate her home is imperative for the 39-year-old doctor - she lives with three family members who are at high risk of falling seriously ill if they were diagnosed with Covid-19.
When her husband was diagnosed with cancer and started undergoing chemotherapy, her mother, 60, and mother-in-law, 76, moved in to help care for her 4-month-old son.
"It's kind of ironic because the people who do need our care the most right now, we have to be careful of them," she said. "I think that's the real tragedy of this pandemic."
The Colorado physician leaves the house wearing street clothes to change into her scrubs, which she only wears at the hospital. When she arrives home from work, she immediately goes to the disinfection area she created in her garage and wipes down her hospital badge, phone, and anything else that may have gotten contaminated at the hospital.
"I ask my mom to open the door [of the house] for me. Then I go straight upstairs and take a shower right away," the 39-year-old doctor said.
However, even more difficult than the tedious decontamination steps she takes every time she comes home, is being away from her family during a critical time in their lives.
They say the hardest part of self-isolating is missing quality time with their family
Before New York City saw its first major surge in cases, the New York City-based anesthesiologist was careful to shower after work, keep her work clothes outside of the home, and withhold affection from her husband and newborn.
But when the cases began to surge into the hundreds, then thousands, she knew self-isolating in their one-bedroom apartment would not be enough to protect her newborn and her partner. On March 27, her husband and daughter moved out of their residence to his parents' home while she stayed behind to continue treating patients in New York City.
"When I come home now, it's quiet," the doctor who wished to remain anonymous due to the nature of her work told Insider. "I miss nursing her and comforting her whenever she needed her mother."
Across the country in Colorado, the medical oncologist has sequestered herself in an upstairs guest bedroom, where her mother brings meals to her door. She even continues to pump for her isolated infant and gives the milk to her mother to feed the baby. Even though she lives just upstairs from her family members, she told Business Insider she feels further from her family than ever before.
"I don't get to have that real bonding experience with my son. Fortunately, he's too young to remember this," she told Insider. "But not being able to have that touch with my husband, who is having a difficult time right now - that's hard."
Although both the mothers told Business Insider that they're thankful for technology that still allows them to see their partners and their infants, missing a critical time in their children's lives is difficult.
"I facetime my baby, and he doesn't smile as much. He still recognises me and my voice, but it's not the same as it was before," the Colorado physician said.
The anesthesiologist echoed similar experiences when Facetiming with her daughter since she left. But, the hardest part for her was not being able to breastfeed her 10-month-old.
"That physical touch intimacy that I have with my daughter, that bond that we had was suddenly just gone," she told Insider. " And I don't know when we're going to be able to do it again."
Both mothers told Insider they are dealing with the separation by taking it one day at a time. While the medical oncologist finds solace in Facebook groups with fellow mothers and physicians who are self-isolating, the New York doctor keeps herself busy in her free time working out, doing puzzles, or reading.
Despite the difficulties, both the mothers feel resolute in their decision to separate from their families so that they could continue to care for Covid-19 patients.
Since separating from her family, the anesthesiologist has cared for numerous coronavirus patients in New York City, which has become the center of the US outbreak with over 130,000 confirmed cases, according to John Hopkins.
"It's an intense sense of duty to my patients and to our country to be at the frontlines, and that's something that I was never going to negotiate on. I knew I had to be there," she added.
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