Med Anth Student Writes about COVID-19
Instead of a final essay, this semester Associate Professor Eric Plemons asked students in his Medical Anthropology course to submit an autoethnographic project reflecting on their personal experience of the pandemic. The format was completely open—Dr. Plemons received drawings, photographs, vlogs, and journal-style writings. School of Anthropology Director Diane Austin asked if we might feature one of these projects in our Anthro News reflections on COVID-19, and he chose a powerful one that I’ve pasted below. Wrote Dr. Plemons, “I think it is an important reminder of the complexity of our students’ lives in and outside of the classroom.” The student has asked that their writing remain anonymous.
We had our first official positive patient die today. Within 24 hours of showing symptoms he passed away at the hospital. We are in complete lock down with everything we do being watched and we must follow different procedures.
Day 3: We now have four positive patients and two more out at the hospital. Stress levels are high. We got new masks to wear. Many people have stopped showing up to work. All the residents’ doors are closed, and they are not allowed to come out. Right now, we are only giving bed baths to the patients because we are limiting the exposure by not using the shower room.
Day 7: Starting from our first positive patient we have now lost five. It is extremely hard. Some hitting closer to home than others. Constantly wondering who will be next and how many more. At this point we are already so physically, mentally, emotionally drained. I have already worked 80 hours this week without having a day off in the last ten days. I am not sure how much longer I can take this.
Day 14: I did not get much sleep last night. It is so hard to think of all we have lost. Not just from COVID but people are dying from depression, failure to thrive, isolation. We are now up to eleven gone. The days just keep running together. I cannot keep them straight anymore. It’s hard to keep track of what happened when, where, and how because it is just happening all so quickly and all at once.
Day 30: Last week I lost one of my favorite residents. We were pretty close. It is so hard to watch them decline so quickly. We don’t think it was COVID. We think she was depressed and just gave up. She thrived on other people and once she lost that interaction she lost her will. At least she saw her family the day before. But this one hit really close to home and those are the worst to see go. Our total is up to 16, but it has slowed down. We think we are finally out of our first wave. We fear this is only the beginning and that it is about to get a lot worse. We are separating the positive and negative residents on the unit to try and limit exposure. We are constantly changing and trying new things to do what is best for everyone. How do we even know what is best?
COVID-19 has really impacted my life. It is hard to work with. Hard to watch it affect my patients in so many ways. It has affected my ability to focus on school, focus on me, and keeping my own sanity. These are some really rough times and the isolation is only making it worse. I am grateful to be able to go to work and interact with people. I am grateful that I have not gotten sick. I am grateful I am still around to help people who need it.