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A Resident Doctor on The Frontlines of COVID-19 | The Essentials

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– I'll be real with you I was petrified

You know, I'm still a little bit scared There's a lot about this illness that we don't know about, and when you don't know something, and you see how ravaging it is, and how sick these folks are, it's scary – Hi, I'm Dometi Pongo, and welcome to 'The Essentials' As we remain alone together at home to flatten the curve of COVID-19, we wanted to tell the stories of the young people who can't The doctors, nurses, and service workers who have put their lives at risk to save more

Today, we'll meet Mike Natter, a resident doctor in a New York City hospital A lifelong artist, his concerns and compassion in the face of the crisis are felt not only at work, but also in his illustrations Tell us about your career into the medical profession – When I turned nine, I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, so I was very, very sick, and I was in the hospital for quite a while, and that kind of opened my eyes to the complex physiology that's going on in our bodies – Having had diabetes since nine years old, and then confronting a virus that preys on people with preexisting conditions, how does that help you? – Having a chronic illness has always helped me connect to my patients, before COVID

I can really truly understand a lot of what my patients are going through 'cause I too am going through very similar things Having Type 1 diabetes was, there was a point at which I had to ask myself, "Do I try and take myself off the front lines? Do I try and talk to my program and say, is this safe for me to practice medicine in this situation?" Because there was such a need and because the community was really hurting for people that could help, and I was in a unique position to help, I knew that it was something I had to do – Man, that is beautiful I don't even know where to start because there's so many pieces to your story that really just capture my attention Let's start with art

– Art's always been my catharsis, and so, actually art's really been everything for me I actually started to draw a lot more while I was in medical school to help me learn medicine So I figured, you know, for my mental health, I'm just gonna toss my notebook and buy a sketchbook Well, it wasn't until the second year of medical school that someone said, "You know, you can put your illustrations on Instagram, and then you'll have something you can study from" 'Cause I was making study illustrations

And then it kind of just grew and snowballed into this thing because medical people, especially medical students and trainees are hungry for, I think, just someone being honest – There was one post you posted in particular that really painted the picture of what a day is like for a health care worker, dealing with COVID, once they walk into their homes, and if you don't mind, could you just read a few portions of that one? – It says, "I have a decontamination routine when I get home from the hospital Attempts to wash off the virus that's very likely coating every surface But while I systematically scrub off this invisible monster, sterilizing, freeing my body from its evil, I know that the human toll of what we are all a part of will never fully wash off, even long after this horrible nightmare ends There will be emotional scars that I fear I will carry for years to come

" – How has this changed you personally? – I think, I think it's really affected me on a lot of levels I'm in this very unique position, in this very unique profession, where I am able to help folks when they need it most So I think, I think I have this gratitude for the path that I was able to get into, but also for my colleagues who are just unbelievable human beings – What has been the hardest part of this to personally reconcile? – I think there's a helplessness in health care Or at least I felt

I can only speak for myself With this we know nothing, and we're learning literally in the moment It's all anecdotal It's all happening as we speak No one knows more than anyone else, and you feel like you're in this dark cave, and you're just kind of together in this little huddle trying to feel your way forward in a very dark, very dangerous, very slippery cave

– Right now, getting close to patients looks a lot differently than it did pre-COVID How have you been adjusting to that part of the job? – You spend as much time as you think is safe in the room You try to have a conversation You try to hold their hand, and one of the things that we've been doing, or trying to do as much as possible, is to FaceTime the families while we're in the room so that that patient can at least have some of that connection or some of that, you know, love and family connection, especially now when we don't have any visitors in the hospital – What is that like and how does it feel to be that conduit in a moment that fragile? – It's horrible

It goes back to that sense of helplessness It's really difficult – Enough said There's no other word for it – No

– Despite all these risks ahead of you, Mike, what keeps you going to work every morning? What makes you wanna stay in the fight? – You know, I wake up, and I start my couple-minute walk over to work, and, you know, you start feeling a little bit of that fear, like uh, you know, I'm a little bit worried I'm exposing myself, and then as soon as you walk in the door, all of that goes away It just fades away 'cause you see these people who have none of that on their face They have this, this desire, this shared goal of trying to help people, and I think that is the essence of medicine, and I think that's why a lot of us got into this, so that has been really just rejuvenating us And I'm really happy and honored to be able to help

– What do you miss most about life pre-COVID? – You know what I miss? I miss hugging people That's like the, I know that's like a very strange thing, but like I'm a very emotive person, and I think that like that level of oxytocin you get or the truth that you can convey in a hug as opposed to telling someone or elbow-bumping someone, that's what I miss the most – That's what's up, man That's what's up, man Well, we'll be hugging each other soon enough, man

– Let's do it

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