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"I pray that the virus will spare her."

Hands holding a small candle
By Kedar Mate

Boston, MA
United States

I had a moment to really talk to my wife last night. She’s been in the hospital’s COVID command center a lot for the past two weeks and I’ve been working as hard as I can to contribute in any way I can. We’ve been ships passing in the night for almost two weeks.

My wife is a front-liner in so many ways. She's an infectious disease doc, a palliative care doc (helping too many people die premature and uncomfortable deaths), and a hospital ethicist (having to make decisions that no one should have to make).

She is not an alarmist and she is not generally fearful. She regularly faces off against death and life’s turmoil and has endured more than her fair share of life’s bumps, bruises, and sorrows. I can’t think of a time when I’ve seen her really, truly scared of her job. 

And yet that is how she was yesterday. Scared. Absolutely terrified — for her patients, for the people who work alongside her, and for her own life. And for the first time during all of this, I became afraid, too.

The numbers are coming into focus more clearly than ever. By the end of all of this, the infectious disease community believes a quarter of all of us (a quarter!) will have been exposed to the virus. Not all of us will get sick but millions will, and hundreds of thousands will die. 

Being a health care worker will be a risk factor for death if it isn’t already. Inadvertent fomite exposure (i.e., exposure from an inanimate object) is one thing, walking into a room intentionally with an infected patient is another. Personal protective equipment (PPE) is being conserved for the “peak of the pandemic” which is still, still yet to come — EVEN in New York which is already in the throes of the worst clinical disaster ever. Doctors and nurses every day are walking into rooms with infected patients without the needed gear. My friends and colleagues in New York are getting sick — one intubated yesterday. And yet we go into work, out of a sense of duty, mission, and love for our patients.

My wife does not want to abandon her patients and yet she is afraid she will die. She will go into work out of that sense of duty and purpose, and yet she has made me commit to new parameters in our wills. I didn’t understand her fears before; frankly, I rejected them at first, but now I do understand. It isn’t irrational, it's logical. Her fears follow the data and makes perfect — if terrifying — sense. I hope and pray that it will never come to any of this, but I am scared.

I know our work is still evolving, but there is a reason for my urgency today more than yesterday, more than the weeks that have come before it. Today, more than ever, I feel the people at the frontlines. I feel with them and for them. Our people, our community, our nurses and doctors are the warriors at the frontlines of this battle. They are scared, they are rewriting their wills, and they are going in — because of their sacred promise to serve.

There are so many unknowns, but two things I know for sure: my colleagues, friends, and wife will continue their noble duty to serve their patients and far too many of them will fall sick with this virus. I pray that the virus will spare her.

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