Status Update

Because so many of my friends and family have been checking in with me to see how I am doing, I wanted to post a “status update”. For those of you with whom I have lost touch, I am a currently working as a senior Internal Medicine resident in a major NYC hospital. This means that I am almost done with my training to become a doctor who can take care of adults in the primary care setting (clinic) as well as the general medicine wards in the hospital.

I was always proud of myself for being a positive, bubbly, and energetic person. If you were having a bad day, I would appear in the hallway ready to flash a wide smile and wave my hand aggressively at you with my signature wide, floppy style. If you asked me how I was doing, it was always “good!” Then it turned into “ok!” Then just a halfhearted “ok.” Now, it just depends on how exhausted I am or how many of my patients are dying.

The hardest part about working in health care and taking care of COVID patients is that I don’t have control. I can’t control who will get sick or who will get better. We don’t have a miracle cure, treatment, or band aid. If you crash and your lungs fail you, the best I can do is try to get you on a ventilator (if we have any left). Worst of all, is when a young person goes into cardiac arrest and there’s nothing more you can do to bring them back, which is now happening more often than before. For those who are relatively stable—I don’t feel comfortable about letting some of them go home because something feels off even though I know there’s no good reason to keep them in the hospital—after all, they have no “inpatient needs”. But the part that kills me is that there are people living in our country who have no sense of the gravity of the situation in NYC (or for what’s coming…). Our government officials and media are either hysterical or falsely reassured, and healthcare workers can’t just go on television to convey the honest truth because all hospitals have a strict no media policy. Our voices have no outlet while this virus rapidly spreads across our country.

After half my census turned into COVID patients, I found myself crying a lot. I go into the shower, and I cry. I sit on the train, and tears fill my eyes. I am on the phone at work trying to explain to someone with no medical background that I can’t find PPE for whatever reason, and I have to stop talking for a few seconds so the lump in my throat can fade away. I know the surge, the peak, the rapid influx of sick patients is yet to come (even though they’ve been coming!), and I am trying to brace myself. I am scared for the patients I see; I am scared that my co-residents might get sick; I am scared my husband is going to catch it from me. I feel as ready for this as an ice cube walking the plank to Hell.

So when you ask me how I am, I will probably say that I am not ok. Nonetheless, I appreciate that you are checking in with me because you connect me to a world that is not filled with uncertainty or death. Even though our government has failed in protecting health care workers, I have friends sending me masks from across the country and uncles from China in the process of mailing me hundreds of items of PPE for my colleagues. I am surrounded by friends and colleagues who are working around the clock in the hospital (most of us have only had 3 days off since the month started). I may not be the same person as I was a month ago, but you remind me that I have made good friends in all phases of my life. For you all, I am thankful and indebted.

Dawn Zhao, MD

PGY 3, Internal Medicine

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