As the novel coronavirus extends its branches across the U.S., we’ve been advised to socially distance, in most cases, and to shelter in place, for 40 million Californians. Anyone who is immunocompromised has been isolating themselves for longer, but not every individual who is immunocompromised has the option of quarantining. And among those individuals are doctors.
At 8 months pregnant, my older sister, Dr. Paloma Sardina, M.D., Ph.D., has been deemed as higher risk by the CDC, yet is working during COVID-19.
“Pregnant doctors unfortunately are called into action during a difficult time such as the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Dr. Shweta Pai, M.D., an OB-GYN and Love Wellness advisor. Current recommendations from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists suggest little is known about the effect of COVID-19 on pregnant women and infants, so guidance around pregnant doctors is also lacking.
“It is currently up to each hospital to protect their pregnant employees from exposure to COVID-19,” Pai says.
We are all dealing with uncertainty, but doctors are on the front lines. To help the public understand the pregnant-doctor experience at this time, I spoke to my sister, Dr. Sardina, about what her days are like. The interview has been edited and condensed.
Camile Sardina: How are pregnant doctors feeling during the pandemic? How are you feeling?
Dr. Paloma Sardina: I love my profession and I am very proud to be a physician during this unprecedented time. I imagine the group of us pregnant doctors would agree that we want to contribute during this time, and to serve our patients while still keeping ourselves and our babies safe. Given the growing number of COVID-19 cases and several asymptomatic individuals testing positive, my feelings while entering work have definitely shifted. I cannot help but enter work feeling worried about exposure and what that may mean for my baby. I do my best to not let those worries consume me by following institutional protocols and staying up-to-date on health care provider guidelines, but with limited data on effects of COVID-19 in pregnancy, it has been difficult.
The emergency room has been very overwhelmed at my institution, and there are mask shortages.
How are you staying strong?
My inner strength has absolutely been maintained with the help of my fellow pregnant doctors, family, and friends. To any pregnant health care providers working right now, I would highly recommend reaching out to other expecting providers. Your thoughts and fears are likely running through their minds as well. Then, I get to come home to an incredible partner who has been a leader at his workplace to promote social distancing and encourage working from home if able. Finally, I am blessed with family and friends who send encouraging texts, call to check on me, and even write articles to share my personal perspectives with the world.
Since the arrival of coronavirus cases, what are your work days like?
The emergency room has been very overwhelmed at my institution, and there are mask shortages. Shift coverage is becoming more of an issue, as the staff is not immune to getting sick. And my institution even has designated COVID-19 care units.
I will say, my institution wants to protect immunocompromised staff and has made scheduling accommodations to minimize our risk of exposure. That has influenced the number of patients with infectious symptoms that I have cared for during this time. But naturally, there are many other reasons individuals require hospitalizations outside of COVID-19, and I continue to care for those patients exactly as I have been. Outpatient clinics have also changed because we have incorporated tele-visits in order to limit patient exposure to COVID-19.
How can people support pregnant doctors and all doctors during this time?
Take care of yourselves! Wash your hands often; avoid touching your face; practice social distancing; work from home, if able; walk instead of taking the subway, if able; listen to your body; and contact health providers if you’re developing symptoms. By mitigating the spread of this disease, it will prevent local hospitals from becoming overwhelmed with sick individuals.
What do your fellow pregnant doctors mean to you?
This is my first pregnancy, and I really had no idea how I would feel or if I would be able to continue to work. I have an amazing community of parent and future-parent doctors that I have been able to turn to for advice, with questions such as: Will I hurt the baby? Am I a burden to the team?
This has easily been the most exciting and scary time of my life. I thank all of my fellow doctors who offered to cover my pager while I elevated my feet, who covered a high-exposure shift, who offered a chair at a full meeting, the list goes on. I am grateful to have such a supportive community around me.
If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all of Romper’s parents + coronavirus coverage here, and Bustle’s constantly updated, general “what to know about coronavirus” here.