Alesia Wagner, DO, FACOFP dist., addresses how being a high-risk physician during COVID-19 has impacted her personally and professionally in this Women’s Leadership Series installment.
Women’s Leadership Series
By Alesia Wagner, DO, FACOFP dist.
I am high risk for COVID-19—what now?
After 30 years in active practice and caring for patients, as well as teaching, I had to admit that I was not safe seeing patients during the COVID-19 pandemic. How could this be?
The first thing I did was have a good cry. How can I not be there? How can I not be on the front lines, taking care of patients? It just doesn’t feel right! Then, I did what we all do—I picked myself up and looked at what is next. How do I function now?
More than 30 years ago, I had an advanced stage lymphoma that was treated with aggressive chemotherapy and radiation therapy. During all of that, I worked full time in family practice and had an angel on my shoulder because I never caught anything!
But 30 years is a long time, and the aftereffects of mantel and abdominal radiation left me with pulmonary fibrosis. Then, in 2017, I had a stroke. Most of you wouldn’t be able to tell if we met, but I know—and I am so incredibly blessed. The bottom line is this: I don’t know how to not practice medicine.
I know I am not alone. Some of my peers are choosing retirement. For some, retirement has chosen them. They can no longer maintain their practices and the expenses. Many of our patients are afraid to get routine medical care, preventative screenings and even acute care. Some of our peers have been patients during this pandemic. We have lost loved ones, friends and colleagues to this disease.
Osteopathic family physicians are all about interacting with people. For me, that means patients and students. My patient care time is now one day per week. At first, the county clinics we serve closed. After a month or so, we began telehealth, but only by phone. As I write this blog, we are 10 months into the shutdown, and we are just now starting video visits. I miss my coworkers and my patients. I am also concerned that I can’t do a physical exam over the phone. Am I doing my patients a disservice with only phone visits? I don’t know if I have all the answers yet, but, we have to adapt to change. How many changes in medicine have happened in my 30+ years? I can’t even count them all.
Touro, California shut down in March 2020. In one fell swoop, I was working 12–14-hour days on my sofa converting an in-person curriculum to one delivered via Zoom. Who knew there were things called “Zoom bombers”? How do you hold interactive events via Zoom? There was so much to learn. This takes “see one, do one, teach one” to a whole new level.
I miss my students! I am the faculty member who keeps chocolate on her desk for drop-by student visits. And to quote AOA Past President Norman Vinn, DO: “I miss my DO hugs!” We had hoped the fall semester would be a hybrid one, but we remained remote. There is such a thing as Zoom fatigue, but I almost feel like we are grieving our ability to interact with others.
As the vaccine is finally being distributed, and many of us truly believe we see the light at the end of the tunnel, many are reflecting. As of this writing, I have not had my vaccine but that is OK; I will get it. I can and will wait to go back to patient care until it is safer for me. I have to do OK. And, I will continue to learn new techniques for teaching on Zoom and in person. Lifelong learners—that is who we are.
My story is unique to me, but I hope that as you allowed me to share it with you, you are thinking about your story. I am tired of saying 2020 has to go; I want to look at how I grew, what I learned and be proud of how all of us adapted! I can’t promise that I will not need to have another good cry in the future—or that change won’t make me feel beat up, lonely or cheated—but I do know that I am resilient and that I can still be an osteopathic family physician, even if it looks a little different than I imagined.