Families of Healthcare Workers During COVID-19

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Families of Healthcare Workers During COVID-19

Like most people, my family’s day-to-day reality was turned upside down by this pandemic and having a husband who is a physician as well as two young kids really amplified this period of change. My husband had to make the difficult decision to stay away from us for nearly two months due to the paranoia of transmitting the virus to his loved ones.  This was the most challenging part, especially for our kids. Once a day, he would come to our driveway to pick up his food and say hello, but aside from that contact was very minimal. It was very disheartening to not be able to hug him after long and hard workdays, especially during a time that has demonstrated how important it is to lean on and take care of family. Despite physical burnout and emotional exhaustion, professional dedication, and resilience steered him towards his duty during these unprecedented times.

During this COVID-19 Pandemic, families of healthcare workers have faced major changes in their physical, psychological, and social wellbeing. While healthcare workers were on frontlines treating COVID patients, their spouses single-handedly dealt with household chores, running errands, helping with online schooling, keeping the kids entertained, and trying to maintain a sense of normalcy and stability when in the back of your mind there’s a constant fear of losing loved ones to this horrible virus. Despite wearing personal protective equipment and practicing other necessary precautions, many providers, nurses, other health care personnel fell ill to COVID -19. For someone who lost a family member due to COVID-19, the guilt of their role in that dreadful loss will carry on for a long time.  Although strict lockdowns were lifted after a month or two, even small gatherings with extended families and close friends were avoided so as not to put them in harm’s way.

During the early days of the pandemic, there was so much uncertainty on precautionary measures and on the spread of the virus and treatment options. Thanks to the relentless work of researchers, volunteers and allied personnel, various treatment options have emerged. Once we realized this was going to be the new normal, my husband moved back in with us; however, with added precautions like using a separate room to sleep, using a separate bathroom, and being served dinner at a separate time. He didn’t complain about having to wear a face mask both at work and at home to keep us from potentially getting infected. For an extended period of time, he had to turn his back to our four-year-old son who longed for a daddy's hug. For our kids, play time with their father was nearly impossible for many months. Everyone in our household had to maintain a six feet distance from him during family conversations and dinner time. Despite all of these precautions and sacrifices, my daughter and I were both infected by the virus. Fortunately, she bounced back in couple of days, while I bounced back in ten days.

Two months into the vaccination of healthcare workers, their family life has come back to near normal. They still have to go through basic sanitization routines when they come back home from work, but things are looking far less bleak than they were a year ago. However, given all of the hardships this pandemic has caused and the toll it has taken on healthcare workers and their families, it is absolutely imperative moving forward that hospitals and the government come up with various support measures for healthcare workers and their families during a national health crisis and measures to avoid a catastrophe of this magnitude from arising in the future.

Dr. Neelima Gonugunta is a Resident Physician at White River Medical Center. She is from Hyderabad, India and graduated from Gandhi Medical College. Her hobbies include reading, listening to different genres of music and cooking different types of cuisines.