When COVID-19 Hits Home

Mafudia Suaray, MD | New Jersey

It was an experience like no other. I remember initially when our director asked, this was before the surge, when we just started having cases, so when we started having cases in the state and the vans were on the way to set up our COVID teams, and they asked initially for volunteers and I thought about it, and I was like, do I want to volunteer to do COVID? This is a virus that is killing people and we don’t know what this is about. I have two small kids and when I volunteered I said, sure, I’ll do it, I figured it was better to be at the frontline and you know, figure it out because I had a sense that sooner or later everyone was going to be in the fight anyways so I might as well be among the first ones in.

And I knew my husband was scared when I told him, but they were so supportive and those first few weeks, I mean the first couple of days was mind blowing, just watching people decline so quickly. One minute they were normal and the next minute they are, you know, about to get intubated and I’ve never seen anything like that. Long hours and just really feeling like you were fighting with the patients for every breath that they took. And then it was just, it was just other patients that you thought, that were going to be, doing so poorly and they seem to do just fine.

And it didn’t make sense, but we spent a lot of time just going through what other people’s experiences are and trying to learn from that. And then it really hit close to home, pretty much landed on my doorstep in the sense that my father got COVID, got diagnosed with COVID.

My dad was in a nursing home and there was, the facility closed, went in a lockdown when the cases started and I Facetimed with him pretty much every day to see how he was doing or I would get updates from his nursing home. And I remember this particular week, I think about three weeks or so into working on the COVID unit, I was not feeling good, I was having a low grade temp and I was so scared that maybe I got, you know, the virus, so I self-quarantined myself at home and had to separate myself from my kids and the rest of my family while I was waiting to get tested and monitor my symptoms, and three days into that, I got a call from the nursing home that my dad had a fever and I just knew, I just knew it, that this was it, that he got it. But he looked, you know, he didn’t have any other symptoms other than the fever. I FaceTimed with him and I just knew it.

We went through the protocols and eventually he got tested and his test was positive and a couple days after his fever, he became hypoxic and he got sent to the hospital, and got admitted to my hospital and that was the start of a ten day journey that I will never forget. Working on the COVID unit and also watching my dad struggle, and seeing how my colleagues rallied around him, just like they rallied around the other patients.

He didn’t make it. And that was so hard. It just did not make sense sometimes because I took care of patients who had way more medical issues than he was, who were more frail than he was, and they survived it. People I didn’t think would make it, despite our best efforts, people whose numbers did not look as bad as his were, but again, I had other patients like him who, look like this through some kind of a chance. But he didn’t make it. And that was so hard. And I learned what it was like to be the family member. I was blessed in a sense that I was a physician and I worked in the same hospital and actually got to see him, and I got to be by his side up till the end.

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