Skip to content

War stories: O, do not wish one more!

It has been a hard week for me and for other health professionals as we face what we hope is the peak of the Omicron wave.

Last week , a young man who was close to my family died. This tragic death, happening, as it did, near the sixth anniversary of my mother’s death, started me on a spin of thinking about loss and pain and sorrow.

I felt overwhelmed and overextended. Like the Red Queen I was running as fast as I could to stay in the same place and everything felt like too much.

My last Obstetrics call was gruelling. I love doing Ob but we were extraordinarily busy with seven active patients and many postpartum exams to do.  I was supposed to have two residents working with me, but one was redeployed to the COVID ward. Luckily my remaining resident was a strong and intrepid R1 and we managed to do three nice deliveries together, even though every time a head was crowning, the postpartum ward would call us begging us to come and discharge the patients who were waiting since morning to go home. We finally discharged our last patient at six-thirty at night, and I was able to put my feet up and take my mask off for a little while to do some paperwork.

The week was also harder than usual, with COVID making even the most normal work cumbersome, frightening, and hot! We had someone come into the walk-in, tachypneic and grey. We transferred him immediately and heard that he was intubated within an hour. I don’t know if he made it.  We had other patients with serious issues. One was a refugee claimant with PTSD and a pregnant wife who had new onset exercise induced chest pain. There was a young woman with severe insulin dependent diabetes who had a headache, decreased vision, numbness in her feet and a glucometer reading of 28. She was only taking her insulin “sometimes” and was missing her appointments with our diabetes educator nurse because she had to cook for her brothers and husband. We had a discussion about the probability of her impending death if she did not start taking her medications properly. She promised she would go to the hospital the next day but when she went, they told her that there was too much COVID in the hospital to admit her, so they advised her that she should do her best by taking proper care of herself.

In our obstetrics clinic, the same resident who had heroically worked with me in L&D saw a newly arrived refugee claimant. Already in the third trimester, this woman, her husband and two young children had bussed, walked, and worked their way from South America, through the United States, to Montreal. They left their home to escape the criminal gang that had exploited and then beaten the husband within an inch of his life, arriving with $67 in their pockets, frightened, confused yet hopeful that they would be treated well here. When my husband picked me up, I told him about this patient. “Could have been worse,” he said. “They could have died.” He told me about the family who died in Manitoba trying to cross the border. I burst into tears.

The problem with working during COVID is these are not abstract ideas: bed closures, people missing vital surgeries and treatments, refugees pouring across the border, escaping exploitation and mistreatment. These are people with names, and faces, beating hearts, bellies that move under my examining hand, tears, and frightened smiles.

The burnt out healthcare workers, exhausted, fed up and worried, easily crying, with some now coughing and wheezing in isolation. These are my friends and colleagues, my students and residents. It is me.

My friend Ben and I were in the teaching room this week when one of our residents told us her tale of being redeployed to cover the three floors of COVID patients at night in the hospital. We listened with sympathy. “These will be your war stories.” said Ben. “Years from now you will tell stories about surviving the plague of 2020-22. It will be your own band of brothers’ speech from Henry V. He then started quoting the famous Shakespeare lines, “We few, we happy few,” while I looked it up on Google. I was then forced to write my own version for this new battle. Not one to be fought and won by swords and pikes and strategy, but by vaccines and respirators and skill and perseverance, yet both requiring deep courage.

Henry V: St. Crispin`s Day Speech by William Shakespeare

From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be rememberèd—
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day. (William Shakespeare, Henry V)

COVID edition

From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be rememberèd—
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers & sisters;
For those to-day that fight the virus with me
Shall be my siblings; be they ne’er so frightened, or early in their training
This day shall gentle their condition;
And Doctors on Telemed now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their medical skills cheap, whiles any speaks
That fought with us against the COVID pandemic!

Modified by Ben Albright & Perle Feldman