I’ll never forget the day I was notified our first COVID-19 patient was being transferred to Research Medical Center. Many thoughts raced through my head for my co-workers and what we were about to face, for our community members and how this would change their lives, and for my own family. How would I keep my 5-year-old daughter protected from what I would be seeing firsthand every day?
We were facing a new adversary that we were still learning so much about. So many elements were unknown, and uncertainty was more present than what we had experienced in a long time as a society. I made the hardest decision that I will probably ever have to make: I decided the best way to keep my daughter safe while I cared for COVID patients was for us to live separately. I spent seven long weeks separated from my daughter, who stayed with my parents eight hours away where she was isolated and safe. During our evening video chats, she showed me what she had learned or what activity she had done that day.
I spent my days and nights with my work family. We worked tirelessly to care for our patients and was there for them when their families couldn’t be. We celebrated with those who improved and went home, and we cried for those who weren’t able to go home. It was beyond exhausting.
When I finally reunited with my daughter, it was two days before her sixth birthday. She was no longer a kindergartner. I missed so much time of her growing up, but I was there for my patients when I – and many other healthcare providers – were needed most. This is our calling, and we stepped up to take care of others while our families bravely waited for us to return home.
I share this because so many of us in healthcare willingly stepped up to provide care for those in our communities knowing that we were entering a very scary time. We’ve all seen videos of brave individuals who set up separate spaces within their houses to protect their families. Even with PPE, we didn’t know if we carry this virus home on our clothes or shoes. We’ve also heard stories of individuals who had a changing station and showered set before they walked into their homes. Luckily, we have progressed and more research has provided us knowledge of how to protect ourselves. The research has produced vaccines with supporting data on their efficacy.
We now know for a fact that wearing a mask can prevent transmission of the virus. We know we can teach our young children to protect themselves by washing their hands and wearing masks. Hand sanitizer became the cool back-to-school accessory in my house, and the hand sanitizer holder that attached to a backpack was a must-have.
COVID-19 touched everyone’s life and has left a mark on society that resonates daily. It generated new topics of conversation and new responsibilities. It generated new fears, new lessons and changed many traditions for me as a parent.
My daughter still often asks to go play at a friend’s house or to a sleep over, and I’m still cautious. I’m cautious because this adversary is still ever present in our lives. It’s a new expanded conversation with parents about exposure risks, and it’s no longer a simple conversation about allergies or bedtime. I’m always transparent with other parents about working in healthcare and how important it is to me that we do our part to protect ourselves.
We need to continue to follow the recommendations to keep ourselves healthy. Continue to wash your hands, wear a mask and, if you can, get the vaccine.
Carla Encarnacion is a respiratory therapist at Research Medical Center, a part of HCA Midwest Health. She lives in Kansas City with her daughter.