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“We’ve been focusing on our coping mechanisms.”

A list of house rules during COVID-19.
By Alison Kapadia

Brattleboro, VT
United States

My daily experience is so different than my friends and family, even those who are doctors in other departments. The only people who understand the level of fear and anxiety are other doctors and nurses who work in the ED [emergency department] and ICU [intensive care unit]. Those in the ICU have more prolonged exposures but they don’t see undifferentiated patients, so even there, it’s different. In the ED you cannot be sure who has COVID-19 and who doesn’t until you get up close. It feels isolating to be in this position. Happy hours on [video chat] are difficult to have real and authentic conversations.

We are doing our best. 

Nirav (my husband) gets it. He is as afraid as I am. We both have gone through our freak-out stage. I was not sleeping and was crying a lot when I realized how bad it is. I never get worried about work, so that was a reality check for Nirav. Then he went through it. We acknowledged that it is a big big deal, and we’ve been focusing on our coping mechanisms.

At home my standard coping mechanisms are probably the same as everyone else’s. I actually wrote down my coping mechanisms. My friend Cat wrote them in calligraphy and my daughter put them in contact paper, and I posted them on my bathroom mirror:

  • Snuggle with Nirav and kids
  • Limit drinking to one drink per day (for high quality sleep)
  • Exercise everyday (that I don’t have a shift)
  • Get outside everyday
  • Acknowledge what I can and cannot control (for example, I’m upset that there are not enough COVID-19 tests but I can’t control that)
  • Name my emotions

I am one of the most optimistic, stable people that I know. Having this list is so important when I go down a rabbit hold of stress. Because it’s real. My chance of surviving this is pretty high but it’s not a guarantee. 

I look at my coping mechanisms multiple times per day and remind myself, and then Nirav can remind me and help me help myself. One day I hadn’t exercised, the kids had gone down for a nap, I felt exhausted. Nirav reminded me that I hadn’t been outside and I hadn’t exercised, and I didn’t want to do anything, but he coached me to take the dog for a walk, and it’s easier for me to accept his help because he is not trying to solve my problem for me, he is using my tools to help me help myself. 

The list has been incredibly helpful for all of us.

Nirav views his job as supporting me—- all of the time. We don’t stay up late at all. We only watch 1 hour of TV maximum per night so we can go to bed at 9 PM. If it is a movie, we turn it off midway through. Usually we would both unload the dishwasher, now he sends me to bed, and he deals with the kitchen. He does something like that five times a day. It has completely upended the gender roles in our house. It is kind of nice. COVID-19 is not nice. Although my choice is not to be a stay-at-home mom, I enjoy folding laundry and cooking in small doses, but it grates on me when we fall into gender roles. He emails all of the teachers and takes care of things. I let go of those responsibilities. I never would have let go of them before, but he is running with that baton now.

I can’t hang out with other doctors who aren’t ED doctors right now. Their lived experience is so different than mine, it is overwhelming. I can’t even engage the conversation.

My kids are doing well because we have Tam (our nanny). Nirav is still working 50 hours per week on top of all the house stuff. So we have childcare for 55 hours per week, to account for his commute too. And Tam is amazing and so the kids are doing great. We are not working on their weaknesses right now, and we are not making new friends; we are playing to their strengths. 

We’re in preparation. Once there is a surge, I may have to stay over in Brattleboro. The kids attach themselves to me the second I get into the door. I still have to eat and do stuff. When I telecommute, because I am physically in the house, it makes them much more comfortable because I am around. Tam is such an incredibly nanny, these children are better behaved now than they would be at school. We are paying her a lot more, like a lot more. We gave her a raise to social distance, and a home-schooling raise on top of that. We are spending a lot on child care but it is worth it. Tam works 40 hours a week, and our other nanny works 15 hours a week. Nirav has gone over super strict social distancing rules with them. Tam is by herself all the time unless she is at work with us. She views this as her contribution to the health of New England. To take care of our kids so I can go to work. She loves them like her own children so that helps. 

One night a friend from work called me at 8 PM on a Saturday night and said, “I have a runny nose and possible COVID-19 symptoms but don’t think it is COVID-19,” and asked me what to do because he had a shift the next morning. I was in the middle of drinking my second drink since I had Sunday off. And I couldn’t tell him what to do when I was drinking my second drink. But I woke up at 4 AM and realized I had to deal with it right then because he had his shift that morning and we had to figure it out. So that is what ends up happening when I drink my second drink! I’ve learned.

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