Being a doctor means putting yourself at risk of exposure to COVID-19. Being a mom AND a doctor adds a layer of internal conflict between the urge to keep your patients well, and your kids safe. Also woven into the mix is the guilt that stems from wishing you could do more. Kristen Bruno, MD, shares how she copes.
As a mom AND a pediatrician, this pandemic leaves me with so many feelings, many that conflict because of my dual roles.
Just like every other mom out there, I am anxious about my children. They are healthy, so I know logically that they will weather this virus well if they become sick, but a little part of me still wonders, what if they are the exception? So I do my best to protect them. We stay at home except for essential business, no one visits us, and we don’t visit anyone else. I wear scrubs and a mask to work every day, then change my clothes and wash up when I get home before I hug my own babies.
But I still have to see everyone else’s babies because it’s also my job to keep them safe and healthy. It feels strange to have to make sure a patient doesn’t have “THE” virus before I can see them in the office. After all, a big part of my job is seeing sick children! But if I don’t screen carefully, then I can’t protect my staff, my family, my preterm infants, my asthmatics, my immunocompromised.
So there are patients every day that I have to try to care for IN their own home – telemedicine we call it. It’s helpful, but it will never replace laying my stethoscope on a child’s chest to hear their heartbeat. So then I have guilt. I have guilt, because in my heart, I know I can do more. I have emergency room and ICU training and skills and should be helping my colleagues take care of the patients who have become sick with this wretched COVID-19 virus, right? I have to back up these pediatricians who are overwhelmed in New York and who may eventually be overwhelmed in St. Louis, right? Maybe I could help the adult ICU docs who need a break from long days in a COVID-19 unit?
Then I remember, I can’t. If I increase my exposure risk, then I can’t safely take care of my healthy patients in the office. I can’t see my newborns in the hospital or help my new mommas learn to breastfeed, and I can’t make sure everyone is growing and developing and thriving in spite of this pandemic. I simply can’t be in both places, and I hate that.
I hate this as much as everyone else does. I hate that I see a few healthy children in the mornings, then spend the afternoons trying to reassure parents that their child can stay at home with a cold or worse, trying to convince a worried mom that I DO need to see her son’s rash in the office because the video visit isn’t going to do the job this time. I hate that I worry about my practice surviving the massive drop in revenue because people are afraid to see their doctor even for necessary visits. I hate that my 5th grader doesn’t get to finish his last year of elementary school, my first to head to middle school. I hate that my daughter’s 8th birthday passed without hugging her best friend. I hate that my daughter can’t make her First Communion. And I hate not being able to do more …
Kristen Bruno, MD, is a pediatrician with Purely Pediatrics, a Washington University Clinical Associates practice located in the St. Louis Children’s Hospital Specialty Care Clinic. She received her medical degree and completed training at Washington University School of Medicine at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. Dr. Bruno is a mom of two; Sophie and Jack. When not at work, she soaks up every minute possible with her kids, and advises her patients’ parents to do the same.