[ICYMI] Pushed to the limit: How COVID changed me

May 7, 2021 | Dr. Hisam Goueli
[ICYMI] Pushed to the limit: How COVID changed me

I wanted to help. On March 25, 2020, I drove to New York in my Fiat with my dog to join the fight against the COVID pandemic.

For the past seven months, I treated corona virus-positive adult and geriatric patients requiring in-patient psychiatric care. And although I knew the American healthcare system was broken, the pandemic acutely highlighted the remarkable inequities in health services and outcomes. Patients with lower socioeconomic status were disproportionately hospitalized on the units and three times more likely to die.

Witnessing death was not new to me; what was were the countless unnecessary deaths, the virtual goodbyes via tablets, and the inability to meet the acute needs of my patients. I continue to struggle to forget the faces of patients gasping for air, the blueness in their lips as their lives slipped away, and the sadness of my colleagues who struggled to not take each death as a personal defeat.

While I am not a quitter and cannot think of my life without caring for people, I cannot deny that the pandemic changed me.

How do you process a mother of four being separated from her children for suffering from severe psychosis, despite having no psychiatric history or risk factors? Or the heartbreak of telling a family- in the same week-that both their mother and father had died? Or the fear of catching an insidious illness while begging for the equipment you need to care for patients?

The person I was eight months ago is now lost to me. After practicing for ten years, for the first time in my life, I am wrestling with feelings of hopelessness and helplessness regarding our failed response to COVID and the moral injury of witnessing the worst political failure of my lifetime.

Dr. Hisam Goueli is a Seattle based, board certified, psychiatrist and is affiliated with multiple hospitals in the area, He received his medical degree from University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health; Dr. Hisam, born in Minneapolis to Egyptian immigrants.