I was in New York City working at the Hospital for Special Surgery when the pandemic hit. The outpatient ORs in which I was training to advance my skills as a minimally invasive spine specialist were turned into intensive care units. Seemingly overnight, I went from performing advanced surgery to working night shifts taking care of COVID-19 patients. My orthopedics training did not prepare me for what I faced in one of the epicenters of the national outbreak.
Caring for COVID-19 patients was extremely difficult and emotional. We held iPads up to dying patients so their family members could say goodbye. News reports often claimed only the old and frail were succumbing to the virus, but I saw plugs pulled on patients in their 30s and 40s. Some were young parents. One was pregnant. That was the toughest part. I even contracted COVID-19 during the early months of the pandemic. Although I was sick for only a couple days, it was a painful experience. I’m young and healthy, and can’t imagine what patients (and their families) who’ve been hit harder must endure.
One night, after a long shift at work, I found a seat on the New York subway and watched with slight bemusement as people shied away from me because they were afraid of contracting the “Chinese virus.” The experience was surprising, but not overly shocking, and opened my eyes to the prejudice Asian Americans face during the pandemic. It wasn’t the first time I witnessed mistrust directed toward my race, however.