American College Of Surgeons - Inspiring Quality: Highest Standards, Better Outcomes

Humans of RAS-ACS

Masked Fear

Child with an art projectNo parent ever wants to find themselves speaking in hushed tones to hide their fear from their children.

My daughter overheard my husband and me speaking about the impending PPE crisis. Shortly thereafter she came to me, gleefully showing off the mask she had made. For an instant there was a gut-wrenching sensation that I had failed her, allowed her to feel our fear. But in her eyes, I saw only hope and excitement. It was deeply comforting to know that, for the moment, she had escaped that trauma. But my children have not escaped, and as much as I wish it weren’t true, I know they feel our fear. They know they can’t touch me when I come home from work. They know that I’m at risk, though they may not understand the risk this poses to them. I’ve warned them that if things worsen, I might stop coming home or might have to send them away.

But when she showed me her mask, there was no fear. She only wanted to hear “it’s beautiful.” And it was.

Lauren Nosanov, MD
General Surgery Chief Resident
MedStar Georgetown University Hospital / Washington Hospital Center

Love Wins: Most Worry, Some Cry, I Listen

Syed F. Haider, MDI wrapped up one of the most incredible months of my life in March. A single month in surgical ICU (SICU) provided enough stories to last me a lifetime and inspired me to write about my experience. Each patient I cared for had a story that was empowering and fulfilling.

As human beings, we all fear something in life. For me, as a surgical resident, I often dread breaking bad news about their loved ones to family members. In the beginning of my SICU month, I realized that I could avoid these hard conversations since I was the most junior physician on the team. However, this COVID pandemic completely changed my experience. As COVID-19 progressed in our communities, the hospital instituted a strict no visitor policy. 

Now, without any family members bedside, we—the providers, nurses, and health care workers—became the support system for the patients and the eyes for families. I know that despite being trained to deliver bad news or have difficult conversations, I wasn’t prepared to adequately serve that role while juggling clinical responsibilities and managing my own fears and anxiety. 
With each passing day, we would get hundreds of calls from family members. Talking to them became part of the routine. A husband who couldn’t see his pregnant wife after her emergent surgery, a father whose son was shot and who didn’t know if he will make it, a daughter who just couldn’t believe that an accidental “fall” can lead to traumatic brain injury with poor prognosis. Each patient had a story, and there were a million things their families wanted to tell them. However, none were more important than saying “can you tell him/her that I called.” Each day, I overcame my fear and updated families about the progress of their loved ones. Some updates brought joy while others broke them down. They cried, and I listened. I often relied on silence for comfort in those moments. 

I know, despite the challenging experience, that I loved every single moment of my time in the unit. I can’t wait to return to take care of critically sick patients, but I’ll treasure my memories as an intern primarily because of this unique pandemic. I cannot say that I overcame all of my fears, but I take solace in knowing that I tried. Make no mistake: COVID is lethal, not because of who it affects but because of how many it affects. I pray for the well-being of all, because we all know that a single moment can completely change your life.

Syed F. Haider, MD
General Surgery Resident, PGY-1
Department of Surgery, Rutgers New Jersey Medical School