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Human to Human

By: Andrew Homere, MS4, USC Keck

It was exciting to get back in the hospital after two months of quarantining at home learning via Zoom. Patient interaction is the reason many of us entered medicine, and I anticipated feeling more comfortable in the hospital during my final year of medical school. While the threat of COVID was always on my mind, I was more-so eager to be able to use what I’ve learned over the past three years to try and help patients. I ended my 3 month hospital hiatus by starting in the surgical intensive care unit (SICU) where I saw COVID+ patients on ventilators and many other critically ill patients who were teetering on death. While medical students at our institution are not allowed to enter the rooms of COVID+ patients, seeing these patients through the glass while rounding allowed me to further grasp the severity of this virus, and the devastation it continues to have on families across the globe.

Photo by Luis Melendez via Unsplash

Despite the climbing death tolls and rising hospital census, I realized what a unique privilege it is to have purpose and learn medicine during this time. My financial, emotional, and physical wellbeing were not significantly affected by the events in the past few months, until George Floyd was killed on May 25th, 2020. As a Black male in the United States, I kept lamenting, “Could that have been me? Why does this keep happening? How many more?” Carrying my identities as a black male medical student, who is dedicating their life to heal (not kill) and watching 8 minutes and 46 seconds of George Floyd’s slow and painful suffocation was unbearable. I compared Mr. Floyd’s fate to those of the many of the COVID+ patients I saw fighting to breathe on ventilators and other assistive measures. Except he was affected by the pandemic of racism, not COVID.

Photo by John Cameron via Unsplash

With that being said, there was still the expectation for all medical professionals (and students) to continue as normal. I honestly welcomed it, as it served as a distraction from “real life”. In a way, focusing on learning and helping others felt like a shield, like doing this could somehow protect me from the same doom of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and , unfortunately, many others.

One morning in the SICU when I was assigned a newly admitted patient, a police officer. I immediately started to think about how this interaction may go: how would this officer would perceive me?

Would he refuse to talk to me? Would he question my role/credentials? I was tasked with caring for him but why didn’t he care for me, or people like me? I recognized my implicit biases, realized how an individual’s action is not representative of an entire comminutt, and how my thoughts may impact our interaction and therefore affect his care. I tried to dismiss these thoughts, but the current climate continued to influence my thinking as I studied his labs, trended his blood count, and reviewed his vital.

Photo by King's Church International via Unsplash

As I entered the officer’s room, my anxiety toward the interaction disappeared. This became like any other patient interaction. I was able to connect with the officer human-to-human, as opposed to the police officer-to-black male interaction I was anticipating. Conversation revolved around plans for treatment and discharge, but also included hobbies and plans post-COVID. The officer welcomed my questions, and we worked together to address goals for recovery.

While there is still so much to be done in order to fix systematic inequities and address COVID-19, it was nice to know that human-to-human connection still has its place in medicine, even during these two pandemics.

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