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Dr. Sarah Rosanel on doctoring, motherhood, and self-care

Q&A with an NYC Hospitalist

Image via Dr. Rosanel's Instagram: @drrosanel

Dr. Sarah Rosanel is a board certified Internal Medicine Hospitalist and a Cardiovascular Medicine Fellow (a cardiologist in training) at a major medical center in Brooklyn, New York. Before the pandemic, she was rotating through various cardiology departments, such as electrophysiology, interventional, congestive heart failure team, and the coronary intensive care unit (CCU). She was responsible for performing or supervising all invasive procedures, including the placement of temporary pacemakers, triple lumen catheters, and pulmonary artery catheters.

With the advent of the pandemic in March, Dr. Rosanel’s role expanded as her hospital quickly ramped up to become a COVID-only facility.

How was your hospital affected by the pandemic?

Fairly early in the pandemic, our hospital became one of the epicenters in New York City for treating COVID-19 patients. We were hit hard, experiencing exponential growth in intake of COVID patients. Two patients were diagnosed in the second week of March. This grew to 100 patients the following week, peaking at 450 within a few weeks.

The whole hospital was treating one disease only. We had never witnessed anything like that before. The coronary intensive care unit became a COVID ICU, and the coronary stepdown telemetry floor became a COVID floor for severe, intubated, and unstable patients.

What has been your experience on the frontline with COVID-19?

Being on the frontline was scary at first since little was understood about the disease. We still do not have a protocol in place or an efficacious treatment plan. There are a lot of experimental drugs given to patients in hope of a cure.

Also, we kept getting changing guidelines from the CDC on PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) and new rules every day from the hospital and the government, changing rules on things such as whether we should allow visitors for COVID patients.

We saw a lot of death, more than I have ever seen in my entire medical career.

But at the same time, we (as humanity) all came together to treat one common enemy. When healthcare workers from all specialties gathered to treat one disease, it was a truly uplifting experience. Nurses, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, respiratory therapists, and others came from all over the U.S. to help us.

The communities around us rallied and organized to provide us with more PPE, more masks, hazmat suits, and goggles. A local business donated chargers and power banks. Another one donated jackets. Local restaurants sent food every single day so that we did not have to remove our PPE to go buy food.

The recognition for the hard work of healthcare workers around the world is unprecedented. The clapping every day at 7:00 PM to cheer us up gives us strength to continue.

This pandemic has brought the world closer together.

What is your home life like? How many children do you have? How old are they?

I have three beautiful children. Ariel is 11 and loves sports (soccer) and the outdoors. Zev is 8, and he loves making experiments and building cities out of LEGO®, magnetic tiles, and blocks. Shirley is 5 and loves princesses, dressing up, and putting on lipstick.

My husband is a Certified Public Accountant and has been working remotely from home. He is the one who helps with Zoom school most of the time since I work every day. Each kid has Zoom-school from 8:30 until 4:00. Hard to keep up with all the classes for my 6th grader: math, science, social studies, language arts, etc. Hard to make sure that each kid has clicked to the right link and has all the materials printed out in advance. At the same time, my husband has his own Zoom meetings to attend for his work.

My role in their learning now is limited to checking their homework and talking about their day, their feelings, what they learned today.

Drawing created by Dr. Rosanel's 11-year-old daughter; image via Dr. Rosanel's Instagram: @drrosanel

How are you managing your work and your family life now?

When I work 24 hours, I do not see my family or talk to them until the shift is over. Shifts are usually from 8:00 AM until 8:00 AM the next day.

Every day, after coming back from the hospital and after a thorough decontamination, I lay down with my kids in their beds and we talk about our day. It is therapeutic for us to know that at the end of my shift, we are together again and we share our day.

Then, I have coffee and breakfast with my family. I set them up for Zoom, prepare meals, catch up with my husband. After lunch, I go to bed for a few hours. When I wake up, I try to take the kids on a hike or an outing by the boardwalk (socially distancing and wearing masks) so they can see the sunset, and they play for an hour or two outside. Then we go home and start our bedtime routine with showers and bedtime stories.

It has definitely not been easy to juggle housework, educating our children, maintaining a happy marriage, and keeping my head clear. But we are doing it. It is for a greater cause: Mommy is needed now more than ever for her sick COVID patients.

How do you set priorities?

My family is my priority. That is why I did not go straight to residency after medical school.

I had my first child two months before I started medical school. It was hard having a newborn and going to medical school, but the baby brought so much joy into our lives.

I had my second child right before fourth year of medical school, but at this point I wanted to have time to enjoy him so I took a year off. It was also a transitional year because my medical school was based in Israel (Technion American Medical School, in Haifa, Israel), and I had to go back to NYC for residency eventually.

I had my last child after medical school and started residency when she was two years old.

When I felt that my kids were taken care of and in a structured school setting, I decided that I was ready to pursue my lifelong dream of becoming a cardiologist.

Give us some insight into your self-care regimen. Is it possible for you to maintain one?

How do I stay sane? It is very important for us as a family to bond and stay connected.

Before the COVID era, I used to take one child at a time on a date night after work to do activities tailored for each child, such as going to Times Square to a museum like Ripley’s Believe It or Not! or Madame Tussauds.

With my husband, Thursday night used to be our date night. We’d go to comedy shows, Broadway shows, movies, etc. Date night was very important to keep the flame alive! Otherwise, with our busy schedules, it would be very easy to drift apart.

After a 24-hour shift, I would always do a coffee date with my friends or my husband if he was not in a meeting.

All those little things used to keep me sane and alive and help me maintain a fine balance between work at the hospital and my personal life. I absolutely love both aspects of my life -- the doctor part and the mommy/wife part.

Now, during the pandemic, we fit in what we can -- mostly family activities in the evening with board games, puzzles, painting pictures, and nature walks. All of this helps us to stay connected as a family.

What important things do you think your children have learned about life during this time?

Despite the long hours at the hospital, I am a very present, dedicated, and involved mom. My children do not miss me when I am at work, because they know that I am with my patients. They know my patients are sick, and we talk about what I see at work, about sickness and death, even from a young age. There is no taboo. They know that I am trying to help my patients the best I can.

My children and I talk about what they want to do when they grow up and how they should find their place in the society and how they can contribute.

What tips do you have for other women who are trying to do it ALL during the pandemic?

Not everything has to be perfect. It is okay if our kids do not eat all their veggies today and have cereal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner because that’s what they felt like eating. It’s okay if they do not want to shower today.

What is most important is for our children to feel loved and secure and to help our families form memories of living a good life together, with lots of love.

As we start to move past the worst of the COVID-19 crisis, what is your biggest hope for yourself and your children?

My biggest hope is that COVID19 goes away as fast as it came. My hope is that we never see something like this ever again. My hope is that we learn from it from a humanitarian standpoint. We should all come together and ignore our differences and our personal beliefs. We should just help and support one another.

Edited for clarity by FOTFL Team.

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