By Kazi Ullah
Becoming a doctor has been a lifelong dream of mine, one that in light of recent events and challenges has been further strengthened. As a first year Internal Medicine Resident at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, I have been working tirelessly at the epicenter of the COVID-19 crisis, with a population that was largely affected, many of whom are Bengalis. As the numbers continue to trend down, I finally had some time to reflect on the entire experience.
As a newly minted doctor with just over 9 months of experience, I did not anticipate being put in a situation that was not only physically taxing but equally, if not more, emotionally and mentally exhausting. I cannot put a number to how many patients I have treated with COVID, nor can I recall the number of pronounced deaths I was a part of, or the number of death certificates my name was inscribed on. I frequently uttered the words “critically ill, poor prognosis, unstable, and dying” during the peak of this crisis. The greatest challenge was standing tall and staying confident in my abilities and my purpose, all while my insides were aching to break apart and crumble. There were nights I would come home from a long 12 hour shift and break down in my own bedroom as I thought about the events that transpired that day.
Each day was a monotony of the same, either successful treatments and discharges from the hospital or failed therapies and ultimately death. Regardless of what I was feeling and going through, I knew I had to stay strong for my colleagues and for my patients. I had to wear my smile every day even while I felt like every part of me was falling down. I had to have the strength and fortitude to carry myself through the day and perform at the highest standards my patients deserved.
While the hospital closed its doors to visitors, I opened my hearts to families of patients and made it a daily ritual to call to update them or take time away from my busy schedule to FaceTime or Skype with the patient and their family members. During these moments, all I could remember was when I, myself was hospitalized as an 8 year old and wanted my family besides me. I cannot imagine the grief families are going through not knowing how their loved ones are doing or being able to see and touch them, kiss them or hold their frail hands. It is at this point where I realized my role as a doctor was not just to review a patient’s lab and imaging results and come up with a treatment plan but to also provide a humanistic presence to them. I had to serve as a bridge that provided not only intellectual and advanced medical care, but also one filled with compassion and love.
I realized through this crisis, that the strength of a patient comes from the care we as doctors provide. I would like to applaud and show appreciation to my fellow doctors, nurses, pharmacists, therapists, dietitians and all those who work in the hospital as frontline workers, as the true superheroes of our community. Because ultimately, our greatest power is being able to transform a patient’s fear of death into the gift of life.
Lastly, I encourage my fellow Bengali community, especially to the younger generations, to have end of life care discussions with their parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts. One of the greatest challenges I have faced as a doctor during this time with the Bengali patients is their understanding of mortality. It is important to understand that while death is not a controlled process and is ultimately left up to our Maker, there are moments of finality that we cannot escape. We have to realize that prolonging death and the undue suffering we provide to critically ill patients is not something anyone would want. It is important for all of us to have an understanding of what our elders would want in a time such as this, when faced with the uncertainty of pain, suffering and ultimately death. As doctors, we can only do so much to prolong the inevitable, but at what cost? This is something that we as a community fail to grasp.
The idea of being a doctor started off as a dream but became my reality this year. I faced unimaginable challenges through my first year. The COVID19 crisis has reinforced how much I belonged in this career and how much more I had to offer. It did not take a global pandemic for me to realize this, it took a global pandemic for me to truly be proud of the person I have become and will continue to grow into.
Thank you mom and dad for not only molding me into the doctor I am today, but for teaching me the true values of loving and caring for human life with the utmost respect and kindness that the heart allows. A patient once told me, “real values in life are love, laughter and appreciation of the gift that comes with each day.” As I work on my career as a doctor and my future books as a writer, I pray that we all, those living and those we lost in the recent weeks, appreciate the gift of life we all are blessed to have.