By Gayatri Gupta M.D., Queens, NY
photo by David Ngo via Unsplash
In NYC, the epicenter of this pandemic, things have finally started improving.
I’m an internal medicine resident in one of three COVID-only hospitals in NYC. Our hospitals swiftly had become overwhelmed, particularly those in the outer boroughs of NYC, with Queens and Brooklyn, where I work, hit the hardest. The ICU, where we manage the sickest coronavirus patients, was the ground zero of this madness. I’ve watched numerous colleagues and friends become sick. One of my favorite ICU attendings died earlier this week. And this virus has taken its own personal toll on me. I am forever dousing my hands with hand sanitizer and live with constant anxiety that I might inadvertently expose my family. I try explaining the concept of social distancing to my 93 year old grandfather who has dementia, or to my grandmother, when I couldn’t hug her after she learned of her sister’s passing.
Nevertheless, the death toll rate in NYC has downtrended and I’m starting to feel cautiously hopeful that perhaps things have taken a turn for the better. The acuity of our coronavirus patients and myriad deaths in the ICU in this brief time led me to reflect on the rising burnout in myself as well as in several of my colleagues. It has been difficult to stay positive.
This desperate search for positivity is what spurred my creation of a wellness initiative for physicians, led by Global Physicians Network Foundation (GPNF), a registered 501c3 nonprofit organization I co-founded in 2014. GPNF does healthcare-related community service across New York City. Typically, we have healthcare workers volunteer in our community initiatives, such as leading health education programs or health fairs. This time around, we wanted to do something for our healthcare workers. GPNF aims to address community needs, of which mental health is among the most frequently overlooked. To combat burnout in the resident doctors working tirelessly to care for others, we have made wellness bags and donated them to those on the frontlines during this pandemic.
Everything in this bag is designed for a healthcare worker. The bags, cloth and reusable, can be taken to work and thrown in the wash afterwards. That is the first thing I do when I come home from the hospital, by the way-- throw everything in the laundry right away and run to the shower! World Health Day was on Tuesday April 7th, and for every bottle a certain luxury water bottle company sold that day, they donated one eco-friendly bottle to our care bags for residents. The bags also contain healthy snacks, pet toys, cups, face masks, lip balm, and hand lotion (speaking from personal experience, PPE has destroyed my skin), donated by various food companies, wellness companies, brick-and-mortar spas, skincare companies, and more. I was humbled by the businesses, big and small, who are participating in our mission, despite the current economic situation.
Over the last month we have donated over 400 wellness bags and over 6,000 items to those on the frontlines. This has been my small way of finding positivity in this tough time.