On the side lines: how two students are living with fathers on the front lines

We have all seen the headlines. By now, most of us are aware that the COVID-19 pandemic has devastated hospitals, and many medical professionals are working harder than ever before. These are first-hand accounts of how this pandemic has affected medical professionals and their families.

Sachiko

My dad is a very hard-working, kind, and funny person, and he is one of the people in my life that I truly admire. Until now, the dad that I knew was the serious, yet lighthearted person who liked to sing Bohemian Rhapsody while wearing a NASA apron and making pasta. But now, as a specialist in infectious diseases at the University of Iowa and the Iowa City Veterans Affairs Hospital, his work has become much harder, and the dad that I knew has disappeared.

First of all, there is no question that my dad is working much harder and much longer than I have ever seen. He seems tired all the time and has dark circles forming under his eyes. He’s coming home from work later, and even when he is home he is always in his office doing work and making phone calls. As someone who specializes in infectious diseases such as COVID-19 and works as a consultant, he has to give advice to other Veterans Affairs hospitals to help them contain the virus and prevent further infections. I cannot imagine the amount of pressure he feels, knowing that his advice could determine whether or not hundreds of patients will survive.

I cannot imagine the amount of pressure he feels, knowing that his advice could determine whether or not hundreds of patients will survive.”

— Sachiko Goto '23

Another thing that I have noticed is how there is an invisible wall between my dad and the rest of our family. Since he is more likely to come in contact with the virus than the rest of us, he is always careful not to increase our chances of infection. This means staying farther away from us, moving his bed and computer downstairs, and wearing a face mask in the house. I know that he is doing this to keep us safe, but it’s a little sad that I can’t talk with him very often or laugh with him at the stupid conversations that we have, even though he is home. Usually, when there is no school, my dad sometimes takes us on small trips, plays Monopoly with my brothers or occasionally plays his trombone. I know some people might say they’re getting tired of their family now that they’re stuck inside, but it is the opposite for me. I sometimes miss my dad a bit, even though I know that he is only a staircase and a door away from where I am.

This pandemic has been like a broken rollercoaster. First it started out as something not too scary. Then it started escalating. Now it seems to be spinning out of control, all of the passengers are at risk of crashing, and the people on the ground are frantically trying to find a way to stop it. I feel like I’m on this broken roller coaster and watching my dad on the ground trying to fix the problem. I’m worried that he might get hurt, I’m worried that he’ll start panicking, I’m worried that he’ll go insane from all of the work he’s doing. But at the bottom of my heart, I know that it’s going to be ok, because I trust my dad to do what is right.

 

Vivian

My dad is an infectious disease specialist at the University of Iowa. He has been researching and monitoring COVID-19 for months, long before I heard about it at school. When he first started talking about it, I was not convinced that it would come to anything, because he is usually working with diseases that I have never heard of. However, now we all find ourselves in the middle of a global pandemic. My dad usually does research and writes grants, but he is required to see patients for two weeks out of the year. One of those weeks just happened to be scheduled as the first week of April. Seeing patients is usually a little stressful for him, but this pandemic has blown everything out of proportion. The hospitals are running out of masks, my dad had me make some for him and his co-workers, which has kept me very busy. Before he went on service, he was trying to find some rubbing alcohol in order to clean these masks. He had to go to numerous different sites and companies to get enough because people have been hoarding it. 

Even before he went on service, he was working nonstop and didn’t have time to play games with us. He hardly seemed to have time to eat his breakfast. Now, it is almost as if my dad doesn’t even live with us anymore. He leaves early in the morning before I wake up, and I don’t see him until late in the evening. I cannot imagine what he is having to do every day. To make things worse, many health care professionals are getting sick from exposure to patients. There is simply too much for the doctors to do. Because of this, many doctors are having to work outside of their specialty, doing things that they were not extensively trained for. Many doctors are having to do operations that they are not as familiar with as they should be and without proper equipment, because that is the best that can be done at this point. Additionally, all non-essential operations have been canceled. This is leaving many doctors who are untrained in diseases such as COVID-19 without work, because the hospitals do not want to risk the spread of the infection if it is unnecessary. This is causing hospitals to lose a lot of money, and my dad is worried that they might cut his salary.

Now, it is almost as if my dad doesn’t even live with us anymore. He leaves early in the morning before I wake up, and I don’t see him until late in the evening. ”

— Vivian Polgreen '23

Many of my dad’s team members are already sick, and he is worried that he might be infected. Because of this, he is always careful to stay six feet away from us. He does not eat dinner with us, and we are not allowed to be in his bedroom. My mom has to sleep on the couch downstairs. Not to mention if he does contract COVID-19, none of us will be able to leave our house, even to go to the grocery store, for two weeks. My dad’s week of being on service at the hospital has since ended, but he has been called to come back soon, and I am worried that this time it might be even worse, if that is possible. It is difficult, knowing that he is working so hard to help people the best he can and that there is nothing that I can do to help him. All I can do is sit inside and listen to my little sister complain about her boredom.

 

Afterthought

Finally, we would like to leave you with a few thoughts. First and foremost, please follow the advice of professionals and take part in social distancing. It may be stressful or boring to be stuck inside without school, work, or any other activities, but it is one of the best ways to protect yourself and others from contracting the virus. Second, please try not to spread or believe false information. Make sure that everything you pass on is from or backed up by medical professionals. The more you believe and spread information that is not backed up by professionals, the more likely you are going to put yourself and others at risk of infection, and you will just add to the already abundant confusion and chaos. If there is any piece of information you find that seems sketchy, check on the CDC website. They are the most reliable, most accurate source of information, and are trying to help keep the pandemic under control. And finally, please, please, please do not forget to thank medical professionals. They are true heroes during this time of crisis, and are putting their lives at risk to make sure that the rest of us do not become ill. Without their hard work and effort, the outbreak would be much worse than it is right now, and many more people would be dead. There is a lot of panic and confusion going around, and thanking others might not be your number one priority, but if you ever see a doctor or nurse somewhere, take just a second to say “thank you.” They truly deserve it.