Siobhan Deshauer, MD, recounts the past year and a half, from working in the emergency department and caring for critically ill patients in the ICU, to getting sick with COVID herself, finally getting vaccinated, and giving out vaccinations to others.
Deshauer: Hey, guys. I’m Siobhan, a fifth-year medical resident. Now, today’s video is going to be a little bit different. I sort of want to treat it like a video diary and be able to slow down and reflect on the past year and a half in the pandemic.
Because as a physician, it feels like I have just been putting out crisis after crisis, looking after patients in the hospital, getting sick with COVID myself, and then more recently being at these large vaccination centers. So, yeah. A lot of the way that I process emotions and experiences is by talking about them. Today I want to do that with you. And my husband, Mark, who is also a doctor, is going to join us to be able to share some of his experiences too.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, MD: We have therefore made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic.
Deshauer: When I think back to March of 2020, it’s like this cloud of fear and uncertainty. Like I remember the feeling in my body. I think I was stressed all the time because there was new information coming out every day, even every hour sometimes, that would contradict each other. People are saying different things. You look at the news and you see the situation in China. You see the type of PPE they’re wearing and then I see the PPE that we have. I mean, part of you wants to be wearing a PAPR and yet you’re being given a regular surgical mask. It was scary.
The weird part is that people in the hospital, it seemed just kind of like no one wanted to show how nervous they were. Or maybe they weren’t as nervous as me. I don’t know. But I know that I was scared inside and that I didn’t really let others see it.
I didn’t want to touch anything. I didn’t drink from the water fountains. I didn’t eat from the cafeteria. I would only bring food that I could like unwrap and eat like in one or two bites. I remember bringing granola bars and just kind of popping the whole thing in my mouth so that it didn’t touch anything.
People were putting our phones in Ziploc bags because you’re always looking at them. I was wiping down everything. I was so nervous and you didn’t really know, were you doing too much, were you being a little too crazy, or were you not doing enough?
Then that uncertainty just kept going even when you went home. You would leave your scrubs at the hospital. You would clean everything off before you left, shower, come back afterwards, and wipe everything down that left the house, my whole bag around the outside, especially my phone. I didn’t care if it wrecked the screen. I was cleaning everything. That was a tough, very surreal time.
Then I just kind of got used to this new normal. Months went by. You’re used to the cleaning and the showering. All of this just kind of became second nature.
But I remember the excitement for Christmas. I just wanted to be able to celebrate something, feel a little bit normal, just get out of this COVID bubble. But little did I know that we were actually going to spend Christmas sick with COVID at home. At this point, it’s sort of like December of the pandemic.
Mark: Right. I was just a couple months away from being a fully licensed family doctor. I did not know what was in store for me. But little did I know that this hospital was in a massive outbreak situation. They had a whole bunch of special rules in place to prevent us from spreading the virus from floor to floor. One of them was that during our 26-hour call shifts, like you guys have seen Siobhan do over the years, we were just confined to a call room on the COVID floor and we’d just deal with any issues that came up overnight on that floor. To be kind of isolated on a floor with so much sickness around you and so much danger, really, is very stressful. It takes a lot out of you.
I almost got to the end of this crazy rotation without getting sick. But the weekend before I was actually supposed to move on to the next thing, I started feeling kind of icky. Over the next couple of days, fever, shortness of breath, and I was pretty sure it was COVID at that point.
Deshauer: Yeah. I was so worried about him. It’s so tough watching someone else who is sick and you’re a little bit helpless, and then I joined you. In about 3 days or maybe a week later, I also started feeling unwell. The fevers, had a bit of a cough, but the main thing for me I was just so tired. Just even walking up a flight of stairs, my heart rate would skyrocket. I kind of had to take a break, which is really weird for me.
Mark: The crazy thing about COVID was that it just kept going on and on and on. I kept thinking, “Okay, tomorrow I’m going to feel like I’m back to normal.” But no, weeks in, I’m feeling achy, feeling tired, and most annoyingly I actually completely lost my sense of smell.
Siobhan: Yeah, which I didn’t for some reason. And how long did it take for you to get it back?
Mark: It just recently started coming back.
Deshauer: Yeah. Three months. Like 3, 4 months, right?
Mark: Several months, yeah. I remember when it first started coming back it actually kind of took me off guard because I’d almost resigned myself to the fact that I was going to not be able to smell ever again. But then it was a particular lavender soap and I was like…
Deshauer: I remember that.
Mark: “Ah, Eureka! I could smell this,” and the world started opening up again.
Deshauer: But honestly we’re so lucky. It could have been a lot worse. Like lucky that we didn’t have to go to the hospital. At least we had each other over Christmas, taking care of each other, and my parents ended up dropping off food for Christmas dinner because, of course, you can’t go to the grocery store. You can’t do any of that.
Deshauer: I can’t wait.
Male: Left arm or right?
Deshauer: You can do this one.
Male: Okay. All right. And you’re done.
Deshauer: That’s it.
Male: There you go.
Deshauer: A year went by since the beginning of the pandemic and we just kept saying, “We have to buy time until we can get a vaccine.” Like that’s how this is going to end. We just need a vaccine.
Then finally the day came. We had vaccines, they got approved, and then March 3, 2021, I got my first dose. Oh, man. I was so excited. It just … oh, what a milestone!
I’m at the hospital clinic this morning and I’m feeling good. My arm is a bit stiff, but I feel like I was anticipating this big response. But so far, so good. I feel just fine. No problem working.
Then about 2 weeks later I found out that in Canada that we had a big shortage of vaccines, and shortly after I got a call saying that my second dose got bumped to 4 months later. Four months. It was going to be in July. I felt so disappointed. I felt like that hope, that momentum, just got pushed to the future. Like I love working on the front lines. I love helping people, being there, and I wanted to feel supported, safe, not still susceptible.
But you get used to realizing that we have to work with the amount of resources that we have and things sort of went back to normal. There was a period of time where there are fewer cases, starting to feel a little bit more comfortable, wasn’t as crazy about wiping things down, just letting my guard down a little bit.
At this point I was volunteering to do a couple of ICU shifts per month on top of my regular residency work, just to help out. There was so much need at that point. We were getting so many emails about needing more people in the ICU.
Every time I was there I was just reminded about how sick people could get and how badly I wanted that second vaccine. Then came the COVID variants, the Delta variant, and with that a really big third wave of COVID in Canada.
This time, as you guys probably remember, more ICU admissions, younger patients, and higher death rates. It was really tough to watch. I’ve got to say, I felt that same fear, that same pit in my stomach that I did at the beginning of the pandemic. It just was too familiar. It felt like we were at the beginning again.
I wasn’t sure if I should be picking up more ICU shifts. I was scared to get COVID for a second time, still without that second vaccine. I didn’t want Mark to get sick again or bring it home to him because he was just getting his smell back. So what happens if you get COVID again when you still have symptoms? There is so much uncertainty. I just had a tough time sleeping. It was in my dreams. Like it just permeated my brain and I just had that fear again.
It has been such a crazy last couple of hours. Oh my gosh. At the same time, four patients became hypoxic. They all have low oxygen levels for different reasons. One of them I really don’t think is going to make it. We’ve called the family to come in. My gosh.
You can imagine how hot it gets under all of that PPE and one thing that I learned from the anesthesiologist is that you’re exposed from here to here. Your mask ends and then your gown ends here, so you’re exposed here. What they do is wrap a clean towel around their neck to protect themselves here. Of course, so then it’s like you’re wearing a scarf with everything else. It’s practically like you’re ready for winter. On top of that you’re doing procedures under high pressure, so your adrenaline is going.
Needless to say, I have got like sweat pouring down my back. Coming home from a shift like that, you’re in work mode until I get home and I end up in the shower. I just remember thinking about all the patients, how sick they are, all of them fighting for their life. The fear that I was feeling for myself, for them, for my co-workers, just feeling like you have a lack of control with this third wave. I just remember crying in the shower and then finally going to sleep, and start again the next day fresh.
Then by the end of May, Canada had this big shipment of vaccines. I was told that I could get my second vaccine earlier. I just had to call a special number. Anyway, you can imagine, I ended up calling like over 30 times before I got through. Then finally, beginning of June, I got my second vaccine. I couldn’t be happier. It’s such a good feeling.
Male: One, two, three, go. You’re looking tough. You’re still looking … you’re handling this well.
Deshauer: No problem at all.
Okay. That’s it. Oh my gosh. I’m so happy to be fully vaccinated. Oh, what a relief. Actually I was so focused on taking the video and actually capturing it that I didn’t even notice the needle going in.
The big question is going to be how I am going to feel later today, but I kind of don’t care. Because if I get symptoms, it just means that my immune system is actually working and doing what it’s supposed to, building antibodies. In 2 weeks, I’m going to have all those antibodies. Give me them all. Okay. Excellent.
Now in the last couple of weeks I have been working at some of the large vaccination centers and it’s just this amazing feeling going from caring for people in the ICU, who are struggling for their life, and now being able to give vaccines to prevent people from getting in that situation. Like I love being able to pay it forward.
Here we go, working at my first vaccine clinic. Okay. Well, I just finished vaccinating like 80 people and it was a nice day. It was kind of like a vaccine machine, but the great part is that there is so much positivity. There is so much desire for life to go back to normal, and most people are getting their second vaccine. A very like uplifting environment, so that was fantastic.
That is my journey with COVID and the pandemic. It actually feels cathartic to talk about it and just kind of like to see it as a whole. It really does feel like this incredible arc. Like it feels like a movie, going from seeing people in the emergency department when we didn’t know much about the virus, we didn’t have a vaccine, caring for patients in the ICU, getting sick with COVID, now finally getting to give vaccines, being fully vaccinated, and just seeing hope for the future. Yeah. It’s hard to believe that this is our journey. It still feels like something totally surreal when I look back on everything we’ve been through.
At this point, my fingers are crossed that this is the end of my COVID journey. But I mean we’ll have to see with variants and a fourth wave. Who knows? But right at this moment, I’m feeling so hopeful and I can’t wait for the next chapter without COVID. If you want to see more videos like this and continue to follow my journey in medicine, then be sure to subscribe and click that notification bell. That way I’ll see you in the next video. Bye for now.