Living through a pandemic was an experience I have difficulty putting into words. As a daughter, I was concerned for my mother’s safety because of her pre-existing medical conditions. As a sister, I had to support my pregnant older sister while we lived in different countries, with no way of getting to her if she needed me. As a friend, my already small inner circle became even smaller. As a physician, I was torn between doing my part by working more labor and delivery shifts or keeping myself, someone with asthma, safe.
The most unsettling part of the pandemic was the uncertainty.
There was, and still is, so much we do not know, and we have no idea what comes next. The entire world was forced to stop and turn our attention to this new virus that came to be in just a few months. Healthcare systems had one objective: don’t run out of the resources needed to care for those infected with the COVID-19 virus. Watching doctor’s offices close was worrisome to me as someone committed to increasing access to women’s health education and services. Women’s health, including maternal health, and the ease with which women navigate care was not the focus of health-care systems until recently. The pandemic seemed like another major obstacle.
I started seeing patients in the office at the end of April 2020. There was a lot of planning involved to make sure both patients and staff were safe. We scheduled fewer patients in a day, cleaned and sanitized everything after every visit, and limited the amount of people in the office at any given time. Thankfully, all the planning was worth it! It quickly became clear that women and people had many health issues that were ignored for a couple of months.
“Somewhat unexpectedly, patients would come in saying their doctors ‘disappeared’ and they need to find someone new.”
Every “vanishing” doctor meant another lost job or closed practice that went out of business due to the pandemic.
The risk still exists.
Maybe I should be a bit more optimistic, but I don’t see this as a post-pandemic era. I think we are in another phase of the pandemic that hopefully leads to a post-pandemic time.
“What we do during this time will either get us there sooner or set us back.”
Despite our precautions at the office, every patient is another opportunity to become infected; to this day this feels unsettling. Vaccine-related conversations are tough because I realized although everyone else is embracing “things opening up”, very little has changed for myself and other physicians. We are still met with multiple opportunities to become infected with COVID-19 or one of its many contagious strains. Though some are vaccinated, many still are not. There’s an internal struggle to objectively answer questions patients have about vaccine safety and validate their decision to decline vaccination when you’re still on the front lines. I have some reassurance since I am vaccinated, if I do get infected I won’t become severely ill or die. But what about my young patients who aren’t eligible for vaccination, or those that have medical reasons that prevent them from getting vaccinated?
Zoom is now in the room.
With most working remotely, more women were able to come into the office for appointments. Finding time to go to the doctor is normally difficult, even for me.
“I had hoped that health visits would be prioritized as a by-product of the pandemic. Instead, it led to a new and unexpected experience for me: patients working during their appointments.”
Imagine walking into a patient room to start a visit and finding out they’re in a Zoom meeting. This scenario is particularly anxiety provoking for me. I could be at risk of disclosing sensitive medical information, so I’m constantly hoping they are in fact on mute. I explain everything I’m about to do during examinations, and fear grips me as I’m about to say “I’m going to insert two fingers in the vagina…”; what if at that exact moment they are asked a question and have to unmute themselves to answer? I understand working from home has allowed us to have flexibility during our day, but perhaps we shouldn’t multitask during our doctors appointments.
Call to action.
Let’s continue to be safe, prioritize our health and be considerate of each other. Physicians, doctors and nurses are still on the front lines. And there is still a maternal health crisis in the United States. If getting to your appointments is still difficult or you need answers to health-related questions, chat or schedule an appointment with me on the Kiira app.
Edited by: Reem Abdalla