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Waiting to Breathe Again

By Rachelle MacLellan

I feel like I'm living in the twilight zone.

This in between time where nothing has happened.

No one has died, I haven't even encountered a single patient.

That I know of.

But it's out there, lurking like a spectre.

Cases are mounting daily, one is being ventilated across the hall. Every patient I see, especially every one I intubate, the question hangs in the air. Our shared air, so I hold my breath.

Time is moving in slow motion.

But I'm trying to be positive. Optimistic. Encouraging to everyone. Don't worry, it's only droplet. Remember the science. We know how to deal with respiratory viruses. Don't waste n95s before we need them.

Meanwhile I feel like I'm constantly on the verge of tears. Sometimes it hits me unexpectedly.

Often at the top of the stairs, in the dimly lit stairwell as I slip from view briefly. Fears of getting sick. Of passing it on to my family. Worst of all, leaving my kids without a mother. And guilt that I'm here, putting them at risk.

But I'm selfish and know I couldn't get through this without seeing their little faces and soft soft skin and sweet smelling hair. Faces that light up when they see me, little bodies that melt into mine with snuggles.

So I keep going home to them, washing my hands and washing my hands but still going home and kissing those little faces.

In the stairwell I have a moment to catch my breath, fight back the threatened tears. Some days are especially bad, and I have to loiter in the stairwell longer to get myself together.

Because people look to the head of the bed for guidance in an emergency, for direction and calm.

This is like an emergency in slow motion.

So I swallow my fear and emerge, keeping my brave face for patients and my team.

Even though I have no answers and have so many doubts and fears myself, I can be calm. All the while waiting for the other shoe to drop. Following the news and counting cases, hoping public health will declare wide community spread. That way we can break out those n95s, because we're all clinging to them as to some kind of salvation. Until those run out, and when will that be? There's another question hanging over our heads, leaving a lump in our throats. And of course there are the door knobs, the buttons on the scrub machine. and don't get me started on the grocery store.

It's everywhere. As much as we stay home there's this constant threat. Of the unknown. How badly will we be hit? Certainly not Italy bad? Certainly not New York City bad? Because we don't have the resources, the ICU beds, the staff. And our population is so at risk. Old and obese, 2 black strokes.

So I give neighbours a wide berth on the sidewalks.

Smiling and holding my breath.

Always holding my breath.

When this is all over I'm so looking forward to breathing again.

Rochelle MacLellan is an anesthesiologist in Halifax (where they are still in the "waiting for the sky to fall" phase of the pandemic).

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