Layers

I’ve been told I look like an astronaut in
outer space when I walk into patients’ rooms.

Wearing a PAPR makes the space around me feel
alien. It’s bulky, weighty, loud; always whirring.

A constant physical reminder of the weight of
our work, the responsibility, the barriers between

us and patients. I wish I could touch their skin,
listen to their hearts and lungs, as I care for them.

Underneath, I wear scrubs; the white coat seems one more
unnecessary layer (I wonder about what it symbolizes).

Sometimes I’m overwhelmed, lonely, wistful. Sometimes I’m
humbled, grateful. I’m always hopeful because my days are

also sprinkled with moments of love. I felt cared for when
they brought us apple pie–that was such a nice surprise.

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

She was a physician working in an inpatient setting with COVID patients. She was unable to wear an N95, so instead she had to wear a PAPR every day. “It’s loud, and a constant physical reminder of the weight of this work right now, and of the barriers between us and patients. It symbolizes the complexity and extra layers we’re dealing with because of COVID,” she said. She told me that while it was a hassle putting it on, taking it off, and cleaning and wiping it every day, she still felt deep gratitude for the work she was able to do. “I realize this is an inconvenience for me, whereas others have had the entire fabric of their lives disrupted,” she said. “I try my best to help every patient. Even when I’m worried inside, I provide the best care I can.” At the end, this poem references a specific time she felt especially cared for, which she appreciated because it was what she strived to do for her patients. She wanted the poem to be both wistful and hopeful to capture the multiplicity of her experience.

Interviewee: Anonymous, Physician
Listener Poet: Jenny Hegland

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