Doctor My Eyes – Introducing Dr Susan

I met Susan (then Suzy) at YMCA Camp Pinewood in the summer of 1978. She was 16, and I was 17. We were both camp counselors, but she was far better at it than me. That’s because her love for and understanding of children was then and remains far superior to mine. It was not surprising, then, that Suzy chose to become a pediatrician.

When I started the project A Time To Heal, I wanted to talk with essential workers in the medical field to hear and share their experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic. Though Susan and I had not seen each other or even spoken on the phone in forty years, she agreed without hesitation to contribute. The following is her story.

Susan had been following the news stories about a new virus in China and had heard the warnings of Chinese physician Dr. Li Wenliang early in 2020. Naturally, she was concerned and wondered if and when the new virus would impact the United States. However, Susan did not have to wait long.

The United States experienced its first death to Covid-19 by the end of February. By mid-March, New York City and Detroit were experiencing overflowing hospitals and many deaths. The virus was spreading across the nation quickly, and states were beginning to issue stay-at-home orders. Chaos erupted as businesses, schools, and families attempted to maneuver the new reality of the pandemic.

Susan’s medical practice was no exception.  Susan, her partners, and the staff worked quickly and well together to process new information as it became available, address supply issues, and figure out how to safely provide patient care. The early days at work were long and exhausting.

The fatigue Susan experienced at work did not end when she went home in the evenings. Once there, she worried about her family. How could Susan keep them safe? What if a family member became ill, what if she became ill, or what if she brought the virus home? What about her parents? What would happen if she had to quarantine and miss work? And how on Earth would that stay safe and connected as a family?

Worry was a constant at the beginning of the pandemic. The medical community knew little about how the virus was contracted and even less about treating it. The fear of getting the virus, dying from the virus, or losing a loved one to it was all-consuming.

At work, the staff trained diligently on updated protocols for scheduling in-person and online appointments and sanitation. Online patient visits were new to Susan’s office. Though awkward at first, online appointments worked well most of the time, adding the benefit of seeing the patient’s home life. The inside look did not change the diagnosis or treatment of ongoing patient issues, but it gave the providers a greater understanding of why treatment plans failed to be implemented.

PPE’s (Personal Protective Equipment) such as masks and gowns were in short supply, and it wasn’t easy to locate enough to protect staff. Additionally, the cost of the supplies tripled overnight. Susan’s team invested in washable PPE versus disposable. Since they were seeing patients outside through open windows in cars, they purchased all the Tyvek suits, plastic raincoats, and goggles they could attain from local hardware stores. The items could be washed and reused and kept the employees warm and dry during the cold and rainy season.

Susan admits that she grieves seeing patients “the old way.” Then, kids often gave her hugs, crawled up on her lap to have a chat, or even reached up to twirl or touch her curly hair. She also misses the unmasked faces of her patients. Not only because she wants to see their smiles, but because she relies upon facial expressions for cues related to how the patient is feeling.

I asked Susan a few questions at the end of our meeting. They are as follows.

  • Are the kids going to be ok? Will there be an ongoing impact upon the children due to the isolation created by social distancing, the need to wear masks, or the pandemic in general?
    • Some kids will bounce back with no problem. Others will struggle for quite some time. Right now, there is no school, so there are no school social workers. That leaves it up to us (the pediatricians) to try to help and or find help for those struggling.
    • Another concern is that many families depend upon the food programs that the schools administer. Currently, the school bus drivers are delivering meals during the week. However, other programs may be limited or not available. One example is the backpack program. Each week a child brings a backpack provided by the program and fills it with pantry items. Many families are dependent upon the program and will experience hardship if they do not receive supplemental food.
  • How long is this pandemic going to last?
    • The pandemic in 1918 lasted three years. That was with a country that was far less mobile than we are today. People today are far more mobile, and it makes it far more complicated to predict. We have also not received a clear directive from leadership in this country, so it caused a great deal of confusion. I hate to say it, but I believe it will be at least two years. First, we will need to develop a vaccine that works, but that takes time. There has never been a vaccine for a novel coronavirus, and who knows how long it will take to develop one, if ever. Even flu vaccines that roll out every year take nine months to create and deliver.
  • How do we get through this?
    • We will have to learn how to move through it together safely. That includes social distancing and properly wearing masks.
  • Have there been any positives to the pandemic?
    • At least for me, it brought our group practice closer than we have ever been. And, it has brought my family, including my folks, closer together.

More than a year has passed since the interview with Susan. Unfortunately, the pandemic continues despite the development and rollout of a vaccination program. Though we know how people contract the virus and how to treat it, it persists. Additionally, the skepticism, distrust, misinformation, and conflicting scientific opinions that began during the early part of the pandemic have not subsided. Let us hope that Susan is correct and that we will start to see relief from the pandemic in the coming year.

Thank you, Susan, for taking the time to share your journey. I am forever grateful.

Note: Dr. Li Wenliang, mentioned earlier in this piece, alerted the world to the possibility of a global pandemic. The Chinese government was not pleased with his warning and forced him to recant his statement. Soon after, Dr. Wenliang contracted the disease and died.

A Time To Heal is a project that promotes peaceful and constructive conversations related to complex topics. Topics are related to the events of 2020. They include but are not limited to Covid-19, Essential Workers, Race, Racism, the LGBTQIA community about the recent supreme court ruling, and more.

Please Note: The purpose of A Time To Heal is to create a safe space to allow others to express their feelings and opinions. The opinions of those interviewed may not be the same as my own or the reader’s. If you choose to comment on a post, please do so respectfully.

Gail is the owner of Lakehouse Photo LLC and The Gratitude Project By Lakehouse Photo LLC. Learn more about Gail, The Gratitude Project, and her photography at the sites listed below.

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2021© Gail Howarth, Living At The Lakehouse, and Lakehouse Photo. This material’s unauthorized use or duplication without express and written permission from this blog’s author or owner is strictly prohibited. 

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