A Lifetime of Sacrifice

A physician's thoughts on fighting COVID–19.

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Hi friends, I'm so excited to share this with you all: A physician friend of mine has written a poignant essay about being on the front lines of the raging war against COVID–19. You may remember Priya's name from an essay a few months ago.

Priya has one of the kindest souls of anybody I've ever met. Days before Alyssa died, she spent about an hour with my family after her shift was over, holding Alyssa's hand while she was asleep. My parents and I cried and laughed as we shared stories of my sister's life. The hour we spent with Priya made me feel so much calmer on one of the days I needed it most.

Priya Srivastava is currently a 4th-year Med-Peds resident and is planning to specialize in adult and pediatric endocrinology in San Francisco. Please enjoy this essay. I’m so thankful for Priya for writing this and for being such an amazing doctor. Please keep her in your thoughts as she takes care of patients afflicted with COVID–19.

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Photo by Daan Stevens on Unsplash

A Lifetime of Sacrifice

An essay by Dr. Priya Srivastava

I was six when I decided I wanted to become a doctor. “I want to help others like my dad,” I chimed cheerfully whenever anyone asked me what I was going to be when I grew up. I held on to that dream dearly as I grew older, volunteering innumerable hours with disabled children, seniors at a nursing home, and in the BMT wards. I was diligent and graduated with honors in high school and college. I scoured over my medical school essays a hundred times over to make sure it was perfect! “Service is the rent we pay to live on Earth,” I wrote in my essays, hoping to emphasize how I wanted to make the world a better place. When I secured a spot in medical school, gosh, I ran around the neighborhood to take a literal victory lap, tears of joy streaming down my face! After I started medical school, I spent countless hours studying, attending lectures, and spending my free time shadowing and learning from as many physicians as I could. I forfeited family events and important occasions to pass my courses and worked 24-hour calls on surgery, all while watching my financial debt build beyond sight. I started my Internal-Medicine Pediatric Residency where I would learn the true meaning of sacrifice. Every phone call with my loved ones started with “I’m so sorry I have been so busy…” My body, my mental health, my personal life, and my self-care all went to the wayside as I put my patients and my work first. I dedicated my life to this career.

Then the pandemic happened. As COVID-19 ravaged its way through Asia and Europe, and then into the Americas, I knew that I would need to be brave and prepare for it. It was all going to be okay though, right? After all, we always had the supplies we needed in the past…or so I thought. Soon, posts from my colleagues around the nation poured out about the lack of protection needed to keep us safe from becoming patients ourselves. Family FaceTime revealed the number of my own family members in the healthcare field that were facing this virus in their communities. Every day I awoke to the updated CDC guidelines of bandanas and scarves being the adequate bullet-proof vests we needed to stay safe. In a swirl of headlines, I read about the doctors and nurses dying as they worked in high-risk conditions without the proper equipment. One day, the helplessness became crushing as I read about young residents, such as myself, who had already died from the virus because of a lack of protection. It was followed by the word that we providers in the richest nation on Earth would only receive one N95 mask to reuse over and over until it could no longer be worn. I awoke the next day to an email from my hospital regarding the action plan for the pandemic once it started to wreak havoc in my community. My role in a “platoon” was assigned and I, the “Lieutenant,” was to oversee my overflowing list of patients and report to my “Captain.”  Here I am, not a doctor, but a naked soldier, on the front line with an invisible enemy, with nothing more than a Nerf gun filled with hand-sanitizer and a bandana as my weapon and shield.

I’m not scared of dying. No of course not. Medicine has taught me that there are things far worse than death. What I am afraid of is waiting in a line of doctors to sign death certificates of patients I will grow to care about. I fear I may have to choose who lives and who dies and having to analyze the chance of survival instead of seeing the human in front of me. I am troubled by the moral dilemma and distress I may have to live with for the rest of my life when all of this is over. I am anxious I may spread the virus to others and be the underlying cause of their death. I am terrified that my family never having the closure of being able to hold me if I were to pass away, alone on a hospital bed. I am fearful that the sacrifices I made in my early life will have been in vain when I have martyred myself in this process.

Although I would choose this career in every lifetime, I am scared, like so many others around me. I gave my life to medicine and to helping others. I did not realize I may have to give it up too.

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Thanks so much to everybody for reading. Please share this if it resonated with you. This is a hard time for all of us. I’m so thankful to have people such as Priya taking care of patients, but I worry every day about the many medical professionals that are having to sacrifice so much right now. They are heroes, always.