As a pediatrician in New Rochelle, New York, I’ve recently returned to my office to see patients in-person. The major pain point? My eight year-old daughter, who never experienced separation anxiety as a younger child, has started to cry when I leave for work and follows up with text messages that plead, “please come home, I miss you,” throughout the day. Preparing myself to help her confront fears of the COVID virus, I asked her why she was so upset. To my surprise, she isn’t worried about getting sick. She’s worried about being bored and alone. “I used to have a life and now I don't,” she told me.
I recently had a virtual patient visit with a mother of a non-verbal autistic child. He had entered school this past fall and was finally learning to sign some basic words and requests to his mom. With his school closed, he has regressed and stopped using the recently acquired communication skills. His mother is trying her best to care for him at home, but the lack of special education is particularly catastrophic. Another patient, a teenage boy who is a star student and athlete, has fallen into a severe depression after spending the past weeks home alone. His mother, a single parent and nurse who works an essential job, feels powerless to help him.
And this shift in mindset seems particularly representative of the current moment.
See, at the beginning of the pandemic, I was paralyzed by fear. I was terrified that a healthy patient could infect me through asymptomatic transmission. I worried about what that would mean for my family. But over time, I’ve adapted to our new normal. I began to wear protective equipment for all patient visits, even healthy newborns, and by taking these steps, I feel I can do the work I was trained to do. The gear does not eliminate all risk, but it helps.