I Am Not a Hero. I Am Scared.

Honesty from a doctor on the front lines

a psychiatrist in training at a public hospital in New York City, I dealt with a lot of existential dread when I found out I was going to be deployed to treat patients with Covid.

Psychiatry is so far removed from the rest of clinical medicine, what with their blood tests and easily treatable conditions. I remember feeling like I was leaving medicine behind when I matched to a psychiatry residency, and again after I finished the medicine portion of my intern year. I applied to medical school to become a psychiatrist, so as I rotated through the other areas of the hospital, I never felt the sense of belonging in the clinical space that seemed to come so easily to the rest of my classmates.

So when this news came last month, I spent several hours just dreading the fact that I would have to go back to medicine, let alone the fact that I would be taking care of Covid patients.

Adding insult to injury, everyone keeps using the word “deployed.” I suspect this word is meant to instill a sense of duty and honor in the person to whom it is applied, almost coercing them into accepting their new reality, however horrible it may be. Unfortunately, there really is no better word for what most essential workers are facing. We have no choice, our lives are potentially at risk, and we are joining flocks of others in the same position.

I am 99% sure I’ve already contracted the virus. In March, I experienced headache, fatigue, muscle aches, chills, and mild upper respiratory symptoms every day for a week — not to mention loss of taste and smell.

I’m scared of facing my own mortality. I’m scared of the people I love being hurt by a system that indoctrinated us to accept sacrifice in every sense of the word without a second thought.

What had I done to expose myself? Nothing beyond the usual of taking the subway and working with my psychiatric patients. I am usually six feet apart from my patients anyway, pandemic aside. However, since we don’t yet know enough about this virus, I don’t know if I’m “immune.” The virus could be rapidly mutating or could become more fatal with increased exposure and subsequent viral load.

My brother is an attending physician in the same hospital where I am training and he has been working with Covid patients since this whole thing started. My fiancée is a radiology resident at an even busier hospital and deployment is only a matter of time for her. We all know about the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE).

My point is, I am not a hero. I am scared.

I’m scared of facing my own mortality. I’m scared of the people I love being hurt by a system that indoctrinated us to accept sacrifice in every sense of the word without a second thought. I’m scared of what “social distancing” is doing to our society. How long will people be scared to be around each other? When will I be able to hug my parents again? Do heroes feel this way too?

Growing up, I read DC Comics and watched Justice League cartoons, fantasizing about being a hero. Hell, I still do. But I know I’m not a hero. Heroes don’t have anxiety disorders. Heroes don’t try their best to avoid the fight until they’re forced to suit up. Maybe I’m scared more than willing because Covid’s just not my cause. Perhaps, one day, something else will happen that will spur me to action, much to my surprise. Am I a hero for telling you all how scared I am? I hope not. I’d rather normalize this behavior than have anyone call me heroic. I’d rather that the next kid who feels anxious and scared about what is being asked of them be inspired to share their emotions with the world as well. You don’t need to be a hero to do it.