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April 5, 2020

Stay Tuned: Note from a Doctor in Arizona

Preet read this letter at the end of the 4/2/20 Stay Tuned episode, “Humor in the Time of Corona.” 

Hi Preet,
I wanted to thank you for the wonderful story you shared about your father-in-law, Dr. Khan. I’m so sorry for your loss. He sounds like a remarkable human. Your story about your wife not getting to be by his side was moving, and got me thinking about the many Americans in that same situation as loved ones are hospitalized in isolation wards.

I am a physician working in the ICU at Tucson Medical Center in Arizona. The most difficult thing about this pandemic, for me, is not the long hours or the time away from my family or the bruises on my face from the N95 mask. The most difficult thing is that my patients are without their loved ones in their struggle.

I have patients on ventilators whose families are aching to be with them, to hold their hand, to whisper goodbye if that dreaded time comes. The tragedy of physical distancing means we cannot enfold one another at a time when we need it most. As your wife was not able to be by her father’s side, so many people are yearning to be with their loved ones.

I wondered if you could share this small comfort with your listeners who may be in pain from the separation.

In our hospital, no one is alone. Not when they first arrive, not when they are joyously discharged to recover at home, and not even when they pass from this world.

Before every physical exam I do, before I adjust the ventilator or check the medications or listen to the lungs, I take a moment to hold my patient’s hand and speak to them. Even when they are sedated, even though gowns and masks and gloves separate us, I greet them, I tell them we’re fighting for them, I remind them that they are loved.

Our nurses learn the names of wives and children and friends and speak to the patient about them while they do their work. “Your wife told me the roses are blooming,” says one nurse as she repositions a patient. “Your son will be so happy to hear that you’re awake,” says another.

We stay. We are always there. We know so many of you, the families of the sick, would give anything to be there yourself. I am so profoundly sorry that you cannot be. But please take some small measure of comfort in knowing that we are doing what we can to be a family to them until we can get them back to you. They are never alone.

Thanks for all you do, Preet.

Hannah, MD
Tucson, AZ

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