My partner Jon’s career is a mixed bag. On the one hand, he likes being an ER doctor — “taking care of sick people,” he says. It brings him a measure of satisfaction and purpose to know that the time he spends at work is valuable to the people he helps. On the other hand, he keeps crazy, disruptive hours, setting our two rescue dogs barking and howling when he returns from a shift at 3 AM. I don’t love that because my kids and I are up early every weekday for work and school. It can be rough.
But it’s never been this rough.
Since the coronavirus became a reality in our lives, the idea of Jon coming home at 3 AM intact and healthy sounds great to me. Heavenly! Barking, howling dogs and all, I just want him home safe.
Being at home together — Jon, me, and the kids — has brought us closer. Friends and family are still there on the phone via whatever medium is in play, but we only see each other nowadays and somehow we’ve settled into that. The kids take classes through the high school online, I work from the dining room table, we eat dinner together. We share the news we heard during the day. We read the New York Times every night to learn what’s happening nationally in much the same way I imagine people huddled around the radio during WW2.
Last night, Jon had one of his shifts and the kids and I were at the table eating drumsticks and mashed potatoes. You can’t buy chicken breasts at our grocery anymore so we found a marinade for drumsticks. We’ve settled into eating whatever is available, as I’m sure everyone else has, with gratitude that we can afford to buy dinner and that the grocery store employees keep showing up to open the store to us.
Over a mashed potato-laden fork, one of the kids said the thing no one has wanted to talk about. “I feel like Jon is going to get this.”
“Don’t say that,” I said. The kids were staring at their plates. We know that many people recover from the virus. We know that Jon is healthy and takes care with his protective gear. But the hospital has asked the physicians to use surgical masks, rather than N95s. And Jon’s shifts are long. He’s in his 60s. He has a touch of heart disease.
I’ve gone in and out of bouts of worry over what will happen if he contracts the coronavirus while he’s working. What if we both get it and die? Who will take care of the kids? Images of my children without me to care for them haunt me.
The hospital sent a memo about how to decide who to issue ventilators to in the event the hospital runs low or runs out. There’s a point system to help physicians decide. Jon is not in the high priority group because of his age. That seems ironic to me.
Living with an ER doctor is living with a precious resource. It’s living with a person who has skills and compassion that are truly heroic. It’s wishing your partner was ordinary like you. It’s not wanting to share the person you love with a throng of people who might hurt him by infecting him, and understanding that you don’t get a say in this.
Living with an ER doctor is watching a person demonstrate responsibility and compassion over and over and over again without questioning whether he will do it again tomorrow. And the day after. It’s staying up all night waiting to hear that he’s coming home and he’s okay…as if he’d know by the end of a shift that he wasn’t.
It’s sometimes wishing he had picked a different profession. And yet — I’m so grateful there are people like Jon in the world. Sometimes I’m not sure how grateful I am to live with one, but I know how lucky I am that he loves me.