On March 28, the CDC COVID Data Tracker reported 30,038,363 confirmed cases and 546,144 deaths in the USA. Millions of families have been affected by the death of a loved one.
This is a story about one family finding its way during the pandemic.
AMY IRVIN is an emergency room doctor who has been practicing emergency medicine for fourteen years. She went to medical school at the University of Iowa, did residency in neurology in Madison, Wisconsin and then emergency medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. She chose emergency medicine and not neurology because at the time there was not a lot of treatment for patients. It was lot of managing chronic illness which she did not enjoy. She wanted to treat patients and not just manage their illness. Emergency medicine offered Irvin the opportunity to do what she liked.
For more than a year now, Irvin has been totally immersed in managing the COVID-19 crisis at the Saint Frances Regional medical Center in Shakopee. But that does not imply that the pandemic’s non-medical touch points escaped her. She is wife to a practicing actuary and mother to three school going children in Eden Prairie. Molly is a tenth grader; Erin is in the seventh grade and Benson goes to elementary school.
Irvin’s work and family span the whole gamut of the COVID-19 impacted landscape.
In her 14 years of service, Irvin has not seen anything like this, not for the number of sick people but for reasons she does not understand, “… it has become very political. I even see spillover into my work. Yeah, it’s just completely changed our workflow, just how we function, how we take care of patients, interact with their families. I mean like it’s just completely changed everything.”
Irvin believes that the big learning for her and her colleagues from this challenging and stressful time is going to be “… more awareness of transmissible diseases and I think it might change how we treat and care for that those patients.”
Irvin referred to the Ebola crisis, a few years ago. For that they went through “… a whole lot of planning even though we didn’t have many Ebola Patients. We, in Minnesota were not affected by Ebola.” She also felt that much of Ebola training did not help here for COVID. “It was completely different. Whatever learnings were there in Ebola, there was not a lot of crossover. Ebola was a case study, but it did not actually encompass all the challenges of COVID-19.”
For Irvin, the most difficult period of the crisis was in June. “We were sort of waiting to see what would happen and just the kind of anticipation… after watching what happened in New York. And we kept asking like when are we going to have testing? We had seen patients who had come with classic symptoms, who had come like through airports in Southeast Asia, back to Minnesota. We did not have testing for them, even though they were having an outbreak, and like one specific patient I remember. The airport that she had flown through had just been closed to traffic, but we could not test her. That is a little bit too specific, but we had seen people who were like that, and we had no testing for them. That was very frustrating because we could not identify cases early on. Does that make sense?”
“…so, it’s like with any infectious disease, at the beginning you need to be able to test and kind of isolate cases if you’re going to contain it. And we didn’t have any way to test for it.”
Was the System broken? “Absolutely. I am not going to get into the controversial part, but looks like there was no guidance, no direction. So, it was more like a rudderless ship. Whichever way the wind is coming.”
PETER McCLOUD is Irvin’s husband. He is a practicing actuary and has worked remotely for many years. However, the added element injected by the COVID pandemic was working and managing three home bound kids who were remotely taught by their schools.
Before the pandemic hit, “…would just get them to their buses and return to my daily routine… that has changed a bit, but not all that much because our kids are a little bit older, and they can take care of themselves to a large extent.”
He empathized with other parents who were “working in office areas and were really driving to office. Now they work from home and they also have these kids to manage. They were not used to doing this.”
In McCloud’s case, Irvin, his wife, is home, a good chunk of the time when the kids are home too. “So, between two of us we really can’t complain too much.”
So, what was the surprising factor for McCloud in the current crisis?
“I guess I’m going to answer it in two ways. First, how little, things have changed for me personally. My work set-up did not change much. Second, it was more of a change for Amy. She was dealing with those people who had life threatening situations. It doubled up for her. Not only she had to take care of those people. She for herself goes home to a family at the end of the day.”
When this all first started…she had her spot cordoned off at home for her shoes, coat etc.,
The family developed a process at home, the moment she gets out of her car she follows that process. She would change right away and throw this stuff right into the laundry.”
“You know we’d run it on HOT.”
How one gets acclimatized to that?
Early on Peter and Amy were extremely careful. It took a little while to get the protective equipment related issues worked out. But now everything up and running, she comes home, changes right away. The family is a little more comfortable with the situation.
Kids are back in school too. Things seem to start looking more normal.
Have there been any sweet spots in this journey?
McCloud came out with three. One, they played a lot more board games with the whole family. Second, the whole family play trivia over dinner every night, Amy has subscription to a service called Trivia Mafia.
Irvin’s third item positive item was a surprise.
Molly, the eldest of their kids has been cooking dinner every night since March last year. Not only that Molly and Peter have dug deep into international cuisines in the past year.
AMY & PETER’s KIDS described life at home and participating in the hybrid and in-class teaching environments. Instead,
They added more positives to the list Peter noted. The things they noted were exclusively theirs and were more joyful in nature. Topping their list? They had more time to spare now to do fun things that otherwise would not be possible. They also eat more snacks now. They were very lighthearted in pointing to an increased opportunity to quarrel, be it in person or online, as they noted a “ZOOMfight, QuarrelZOOM”.
They love their active involvement in the increased home cooking activities. During the pandemic they read and explored cuisines from thirty-one countries. Cambodian food was on the menu that evening. The pandemic gave the family, opportunity to get knowledgeable about people, cultures and cuisines from across the world.
During the worst pandemic in a century, in the midst of a tough situations, the family searched for, and continues to find, their way forward.
(Editor’s Note: Vijay Dixit is the Chairman of Shreya R. Dixit Memorial Foundation)