The irony of connection in a world of distance

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By Lauren J. Prusnofsky Field, DO, MS, FACEP

Dr. Lauren J. Prusnofsky Field and her colleagues in emergency medicine.

We are advised currently, as emergency medicine physicians, during the COVID-19 pandemic that we should consider not listening to a patient’s lungs due to further exposure risk, standing 6 feet away at all times and to limit our direct face-to-face time with our patients. As emergency medicine physicians we have dedicated our lives to establishing quick connection with strangers who may be experiencing one of the worst days of their lives. It is challenging to me then, during this time, to be able to hold onto the humanistic touch that many of us strive to uphold when interacting with our patients, no matter how brief.

Outside of work people are FaceTiming, Zoom-ing, Google Hangout-ing, etc… with friends and family multiple times a week and reconnecting from a distance. Maybe it is increased time at home for some that has enabled this, or maybe it’s our innate drive to feel linked to one another, particularly during times of stress. We are finding common ground in new places and while there is a temporary mourning of in person interaction, it is remarkable to observe the communication that is evolving. It is comforting to me then, that distance does not necessarily have to equal detachment.

As we continue to add physical layers of separation in and outside of work, I can’t help but notice the sense of camaraderie laced throughout our Emergency Department team as well. We are always in the trenches together, but now more than ever. Embroidered on our jackets in residency at UConn/Hartford Hospital was the phrase “In Calm and In Chaos All Day and All Night.” As each of us attempts to maintain connection during a time of distancing, I am thankful for those who support us, both at work and at home. This could not be done without them.

So as I head into my shift this evening I hold onto this idea. That for safety I am temporarily at a longer stretch away from my patients than I would like, but I would like them to know this does not mean we worry less, consider their pain less, or take them less seriously. Each day is a chance to work towards establishing alternate means of providing comfort and gaining trust without being able to safely hold someone’s hand.

It is easy to lose sight of why we went into this in the first place, but the irony of connection during a pandemic does not escape me. I look to what we are accomplishing during this time with our friends and family and with our work teams as our inspirations, and I know we will utilize this time to continue to grow well after the pandemic concludes.

Lauren J. Prusnofsky Field, DO, MS, FACEP is an emergency medicine physician at St. Luke’s Hospital, New Bedford, MA, and is a member of the Associated Faculty of Harvard Medical Faculty Physicians.