How My Hospitalization During COVID Changed Me as a Physician

Takatsubo Cardiomyopathy, known as “broken heart syndrome,” is a form of heart disease that occurs following a traumatic or stressful event; people may present after the death of a loved one or other tragic accident. Thanks to COVID-19 we are currently in a time of great stress. The stress response of a global pandemic is something that we will see the effects of long after the treatment and vaccine are developed. There are many new reports and articles focusing on the stress related to COVID-19, tips to help combat that stress and guide wellness, and even some hospitals setting up wellness teams and meetings in the hospital to support the staff.

Early on we saw the stress associated with staying home— stress of the unknown and the lack of human contact, as well as stress with going to the hospital for any illness. Many saw a decrease in typical ER consults and patients who wanted to come to the outpatient clinics for fear of the disease, many were furloughed or lost their jobs. Patients admitted for COVID and non-COVID alike have experienced a different kind of stress: on top of the typical stress of hospitalization, there are often no visitors or family allowed at their side.

Visitor restrictions have left patients and parents facing already stressful admissions, with less support from family and/or caretakers. While hospital staff have adapted and learned unique ways like video chat and providing more frequent updates to families to bridge this isolation, it is still a difficult and stressful process.

I experienced being a patient during COVID-19 when I delivered my first baby this May, followed by what any pediatrician, including myself, would consider a minor/routine readmission for my daughter a few days after birth. We were admitted at the hospital where I work, so it was more familiar to me, and my husband was allowed to visit us during the birth (but not my daughter’s admission). While there was no lack of empathy or care from the staff, this was still a very stressful time for me without the physical presence and support of my family and friends being allowed in the hospital with us. I cannot imagine how much more stressful this would have been for someone who does not work in a hospital, had never been in a hospital, or was not allowed any family members present.

One positive thing that came out of this stress for me was a new appreciation and respect for my patients and their parents. Despite being able to FaceTime family, I was surrounded by new faces and a new experience; it was a scary and isolating few days. I realized that something I always felt was routine or minor as the treating physician, didn’t seem that way when I was laying in the hospital bed myself or hovering over my newborn’s crib. I realized that I can use this experience to better myself as a clinician and that what may be routine or minor for me the physician, may be that patient or parent’s worst day.

The way healthcare workers have gone above and beyond to try to engage and support those in the hospital is to be applauded and respected, and I think the lessons learned during this time will go a long way into life after COVID-19. We need to continue to find ways to incorporate family and friends who cannot physically be present, and reduce some of the stress and isolation that admission to the hospital carries.

COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate based on age, race, gender, occupation, identity, or even infection status; it affects everyone whether you have the virus or not. The physical effects of stress may not always be as obvious as something like Takatsubo Cardiomyopathy, but they are nonetheless important to recognize and treat. We as physicians should continue to take the time to respect and assess the mental health of not only ourselves, but all of those around us, and engage the full person into our care while adapting to new and uncomfortable situations.

“The views, opinions and positions expressed within this blog are those of the author(s) alone and do not represent those of the American Heart Association. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them. The Early Career Voice blog is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment. Only your healthcare provider can provide that. The American Heart Association recommends that you consult your healthcare provider regarding your personal health matters. If you think you are having a heart attack, stroke or another emergency, please call 911 immediately.”