Is this a simulation? #westworld #covid19 #telehealth #quarantined #perspective

Saying that a lot has happened in the 5 months since my last post would be an understatement. If you asked me in February “what is the craziest thing you ever lived through?”, cancer would unequivocally be #1 and the only thing I could have come up with. Now in just a few short months, I have added a pandemic and global movement  against social injustice. I have found myself asking many times “is this a simulation?” (this should resonate for any Westworld fans). In this blog post, I am going to provide my perspectives on everything that has taken place over the past few months from 3 different vantage points: as a doctor, as a patient, and as a father.

Doctor: In January 2020, the first case of an unknown virus called COVID-19 entered the US, but we didn’t start to feel the impacts of this unknown strand of coronavirus until March 2020. I didn’t realize how serious it was until things began to shutdown. If you recall, I work in a hospital as an Oral and Facial Surgery resident. Before this, hospitals NEVER shut down. Little did I know that when I walked in for a training on March 16th, it would be the last day I set foot into VCU Medical Center for months. I remember having conversations that day with peers about potential scenarios and closures that may occur. Sure enough, everything (i.e. the dental school, clinics, operating rooms) closed for anything that was not considered an emergency. We knew very little about the the coronavirus, but there were a few things that we did know: 1) it had potentially severe respiratory impacts, which is not great for anyone who had pre-existing conditions impacting the lungs like me, and 2) it was a very fluid situation and would change daily.  As a department, we had to scramble to figure out a schedule for our residents and attendings that would minimize potential exposure to COVID-19 as well as how to continue our education in a remote environment having been entirely in-person until that point, all without an understanding of how long this would endure. Knowing that stage 4 lung cancer made me a higher risk patient, my department worked to minimize any need for me to go into the hospital. That meant virtual learning / lectures and telehealth, which are probably the least enjoyable parts of my job. As a surgeon, I love being in the OR and performing surgery; however, we all knew that preserving my health was the best thing for everyone.  

After months of remote working, I finally re-entered the hospital for the first time since this all began this past Monday, June 8th and went right back into the OR, a place that has always provided me an escape. I am ecstatic to be able to finish my training in the hospital because in just 16 days, my 27 years of education will be complete as I finish my OMFS residency.

Patient: It was an interesting experience going in for my quarterly scan in April as a patient. Usually, these appointments take up almost an entire day, but this time they split up the appointments. My scans and bloodwork were one day and my usual appointment with Dr. Hall was over the phone. For my scans and bloodwork, it was eerie seeing an empty hospital and empty waiting rooms.  Only people who absolutely needed to be seen were in the hospital and everyone was wearing a mask. I was thankful that UVA had taken proper precautions to protect their patients and staffAs for my call with Dr. Hall, it was funny being on the other side of the phone for a telehealth appointment (I wonder if he feels the same way as I do about them?). The important thing though was the scans remained stable and we are staying the course. My next visit is in just a few weeks so fingers crossed that everything still looks good!

Father: The other thing that I’ve gained in these past 5 months is a lot of perspective about being a parent and about the world in the year 2020. Since I worked remotely for almost 3 months, I probably spent more time with my daughter during this quarantine than I had all of in 2019 combined. I cherished waking up to her happy face in the mornings and singing her to bed every night. It made me appreciate being a parent more than ever before.

The spread of COVID-19, which originated from Wuhan, China, caused a rise in hate crimes toward the asian community. This rise in violent racism toward asians had personally concerned me and and made me start to worry more for the safety of my family, especially for my 2 year old daughter. Is she going to have to grow up in a world where she constantly has to look over her shoulder? I say this not to take pity on the asian community for being wrongfully attacked, but to acknowledge and understand that the recent insurgence against racial injustice are not without merit.

In light of all the recent protests over the death of George Floyd, I realized the worry that I felt for Avery is not even a fraction of the fear and concern that black people have endured for centuries. I have spent a lot of time trying to educate myself and listen to what is being asked for and what I’ve heard is nothing more than a cry to have a fair chance in this crazy world. I have found these videos to be great resources to help me better understand and broadened my perspectives on the situation:

Whether we are Republican or Democrat, we are all humans. I hope the humanity in us helps us to recognize that all people, regardless of color, race or religion, have a right to a fair chance at life. As a father, I hope to teach my daughter to grow up to be an educated and respectful young woman with an open mind and an open heart.