On the Front Lines

My husband is a second year pulmonary and critical care fellow. His specialty threads the needle for the coronavirus which (I’m sure you all know by now) attacks the respiratory system. He works in a busy ICU in Pittsburgh. He sees the patients who are at their worst – the ones who need to be ventilated or need EBUS or need lots of other care that seems to involve a lot of acronyms that I frankly don’t understand. Lately, he’s been clocking 70-85 hours of work a week. He comes home exhausted and emotionally drained. He throws his scrubs directly into our washing machine, starts a cycle on extra hot, and goes straight to the shower to wash off any potential remnants of the virus that may have hitchhiked home with him from work. While this daily routine happens, our son Townes crawls towards him in a chasing sort of “tell me hi!” way that is both adorable and heart-wrenching at the same time. He doesn’t understand why his dad can’t hold him.

Ode to Adam from Rosen Fine Art’s Pandemic Series (Source)

Being the wife to a healthcare worker always has its challenges. No one goes into a marriage with a physician thinking they will have a spouse who works a typical 9am – 5pm job, but being a wife to a physician on the front lines during a pandemic brings about a whole new set of challenges. There’s something about being in a relationship with someone who is saving people’s lives all day that somehow makes the regular 40hr/wk job of a non-medical spouse seem less important, less valuable, and less difficult. Toss in the weight and stress of a global pandemic and that non-medical spouse now becomes the lifeline at home who keeps the family ecosystem functioning.

For the first six months of the pandemic, the responsibility to keep our home life functioning felt rewarding. Managing the day-to-day concerns of our home and family seemed to give Jason the support he needed to get through the week. I felt as though I was playing a very small, behind the scenes role in helping him not get burned out – in turn helping people get the attention and compassionate care they need from their physician. I was (and always am) so proud of my husband. He has a unique ability to connect to his patients personally, no matter their circumstances or age. We can typically both trudge through tough times with no complaints and pick up each other’s slack when the other is drained.

But now, 10 months into this, I’m worn down and growing increasingly frustrated. There has been a lot to adapt to this year with becoming a new mother, balancing a full-time job at home, and being disconnected from friends and family. Jason’s 70+ hour work week only adds stress to the adaptation. His workload adds a pretty heavy weight on my shoulders that has slowly morphed into my bones for the unforeseeable future. Sometimes, I feel like a single mom on a foreign island, and recently I’ve noticed myself shift into a person who lives with genuine anger, frustration, and fear.

A lot of times, my anger and frustration is directed towards random people whom I barely know – like people on social media who claim this pandemic isn’t real. I’ve found myself recently responding to posts I never would have entertained in the past. I am offended, frustrated, and amazed at how inconsiderate and selfish people’s actions have become. Perhaps one of the more surprising things about all of this is that Jason doesn’t share my frustration. It doesn’t bother him that he works tirelessly to save people’s lives who didn’t believe that this virus was real. It doesn’t affect him to hear people demand medications that have become popular from obscure propaganda and have no scientific backing. He has a sort of natural ability to just continue to help – no matter the circumstances. Meanwhile, I’m in a tireless fit of rage over people broadcasting their feigned knowledge of the situation to the world. At first, I chalked my defense to these claims up as a way to defend my husband’s work, but now I realize they are a bratty plea for someone to see the struggle our little family has gone through. A plea for someone to recognize the individual lives that are shifting and working tirelessly without praise, without support, and without a collective belief in the threat they face daily. This isn’t a hoax, the numbers aren’t inflated, and no one is choosing to live the challenges this pandemic brings for a political agenda.

This isn’t one of those posts that ends with a happy, uplifting tone. I’m in a rough season of life along with so many around the world. I live 18 hours from home. My local support circle is my husband, who is also playing the supportive role to so many patients and their families. I am exhausted. I want to sleep. And I feel so fucking bratty for wanting all of those little luxuries while numerous people around the world are experiencing worse. This post is for solidarity. To tell the other spouses of medical workers that I am with you, and I hope we can all come out of this together with love and compassion.