COVID-19 Diary Day 11: Every Obituary Deserves to Be Read

Don S. Dizon, MD


April 20, 2020

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Don S. Dizon, MD

I am looking outside my window on a Sunday evening. The day was glorious, in the 60s and sunny. I almost forgot there was a pandemic.

Twitter jarred me back to reality. Everyone I follow is posting about COVID-19; it's all I am posting about as well. More and more, I find myself reading the stories of those who have died from the disease. On April 2, I had tweeted how frequently COVID-19 obituaries were appearing. Back then, it seemed as if the deaths were mostly occurring in the vulnerable, either because of age or comorbidities.

Now I know better. Kids have succumbed to this virus as have people in my own age group. No one is spared. I spent part of my morning reading these remembrances, almost as an obligation. Knowing they all died alone makes it important that I read them. Whether famous or not, each deserves to be read.

Despite the sorrow, all I have to do is look at the faces of my kids to appreciate the weekend we just had. On Friday, I had spoken to a colleague from MGH and he had remarked how difficult the COVID-19 surge has been. Similar policies are in place there as at my own institution: no visitors, and masks at all times.

However, 340 patients are admitted there, with nearly half requiring intensive care. They have had to expand their ICU capacity, and their faculty and fellows have all taken up the call to care for these patients, no matter their specialty area.

He wondered whether I was being asked to attend on a COVID-19 service. I responded that no, we were not being asked to do that; our priority was to maintain cancer center operations, including clinical trials, and that we were all taking turns covering inpatient consults and the COVID-19 patients with cancer. We were taking this approach to keep our oncology service (and our two hospitalists) COVID-19 free. He mentioned that he was starting as an attending next week and we began discussing what he was going to do about his family.

"I'm going to stay in a hotel," he said, explaining that he couldn't risk exposing his young family to the virus. "It gets on your clothes, shoes, everything."

It brought up my own questions: How would I handle the consult service?

Fortunately, the community of Providence, where I practice, has responded to these needs. I have housing options should I decide to stay closer to the hospital during my week of consults.

But at the moment, I didn't have to think about that. Instead, I played Frisbee with my son and watched my daughter as she rode her bike. I spent the day learning new dance challenges and recording a few TikToks, as well as planning my Sunday dinner.

I can pretend it's a normal Sunday. But I know that tomorrow I will once again have to face the reality we are all going through.

Don S. Dizon, MD, is an oncologist who specializes in women's cancers. He is the director of women's cancers at Lifespan Cancer Institute and director of medical oncology at Rhode Island Hospital.

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