As we navigate self-quarantining and social distancing with kids, we can’t help but think of the moms on the front lines of this COVID-19 crisis. Many of us find ourselves at the end of our ropes by about 3 o’clock for reasons ranging from toddler tantrums to tween homeschooling. But moms like Hala Sabry, DO, MBA, who works in the ER department of two hospitals in Southern California, are balancing a new reality at work with a new reality at home. And home is a busy place for Sabry, with five kids under 7—a 6 1/2-year-old daughter, 5 ½-year-old boy-girl twins and 2-year-old girl twins, all conceived through IVF. We were grateful she took the time to speak with us about what her life is like right now:
Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us. What is your daily life like right now?
At this point, I’m probably shifting to Mom more than doctor actually. In California we’re social distancing and sheltering in place, and it’s definitely working. Even though people are coming to the hospital really sick, there are now less sick people, so right now there is a little more time for me to be at home. That’s been a little challenging because pre-COVID I was actually in the hospital more, and they’re not used to seeing me home!
So the hospital was busier a few weeks ago?
Omigosh, yes—everyone was really sick. It’s challenging because you really want [those patients] to survive. And then there are other people who come in and are sick, but not sick enough [to admit]…the responsibility is insane. We’re finding out more about this virus every day, but it is very difficult to predict who needs to be in the hospital and who gets to go home. Physicians usually work with years and years of data and we don’t have that available right now. It’s difficult to decide who needs to be admitted to the hospital and who gets to go home because this virus is so unpredictable and we have limited beds which prevents us from admitting everyone just to be safe. You just hope that everyone you send home continues to do well with caution that they can get worse (which is always the reality) but COVID is just too new for us to feel comfortable. As an ER doctor you’re used to [these decisions and stress] but with COVID it has been exhausting—now add the worry about contracting the virus myself. We have not had a lot of protective equipment so while I’m treating these people and worrying about them, you’re worrying about your own family. But you think, If I don’t do it who will?
Wow. So what is your routine when you get home?
Before this, I would usually change but after triaging the list of requests from my kids that happens when I walk in the door. Now when I get home my priority is our family’s safety. I’m the most dangerous person [in our home] because they’re all sheltering in place—and I can’t. I’m the one putting people on life support and that gives me a high chance of contracting the virus. My husband will ask me if I intubated anyone that day, so he knows before I get home. And I’ll text him that I’m 5 minutes away and he gets the kids to an area of the house [away from where I come in]. I come in, put my shoes in the garage where they won’t touch them—I hide them. I wipe down my car’s seat with disinfectant even though my family isn’t allowed in my car right now. I walk into the house, put everything in the washing machine, put on my robe, shower, wash myself twice, get out, change and then meet my husband where my kids are and I start our day. One nice thing is I’m taking longer showers to wash all these particles off and I’ve never had this much time for washing off the trauma of the day. If anything, I’ve decided to incorporate that into my practice every day going forward.
So your husband has been watching the kids? And do you have anything else helping you?
Yes, my husband is with my kids but we need a 2 adult to 5 kids ratio, so we have one nanny who is quarantined as well.
What are your thoughts on the reopening of states?
If we open too early it will lead to a second rise which we have started seeing. We’re not scared of it—we know it’s going to happen. And as doctors, we get hit twice—the on the job health risk as well as financially. There is an expectation that physicians will volunteer to work for free [due to cutbacks]. It’s almost like a physician draft. [If] people don’t live in a hotspot or don’t know one of the people who have died or been affected, I don’t blame them [for wanting to open ASAP]. But your freedom can be deadly for the next person…and we don’t boundaries between states.
What was the biggest challenge at the hospital when it was at its busiest?
Going into the hospital was just a lot of anxiety. You didn’t know what you were going to see day to day ,or what kind of equipment you would have to protect you (face masks, eye shields and gowns). Even skydivers have parachutes to protect them. [In this pandemic] you don’t even know if you’ll have your “parachute” as a healthcare worker.
Anything else you’d like to share?
I remember the devastation during fertility treatments, whenever something would delay my pregnancy possibilities and with COVID, they stopped doing [treatment] cycles because it was initially considered elective and they didn’t want to increase the risk of transmission to the fertility physicians, staff or patients. In the earliest of days so far COVID doesn’t seem to have widespread negative effects on pregnant women but as I mentioned before – we just don’t have enough data. My husband and I didn’t have COVID to deal with when we were going through our fertility treatments, but if a holiday or new medication delayed a cycle…those two weeks [of fertility] were considered golden and I always felt like I was wasting time. As a physician, we want people to stay home and not come in for anything unnecessary and infertility treatments have historically been considered “elective” because of insurance lack of coverage and the “choice” of having a baby, but we’re not telling people at home not to have sex and conceive that way. There has been discussion in the infertility community on how we can move forward and the infertility physicians recently started going back to cycles after weeks of closure. There are a lot of unfair things that happen in the infertility community and I see both sides of it as a fertility patient and a physician treating COVID patients.