Maureen Taylor is a physician assistant in infectious diseases at Michael Garron Hospital in Toronto.
I work in a cramped, one-window office with 5 other physician assistants. Much of the day we’re out in the hospital wards seeing patients, but we tend to eat lunch together. We have some patients in common so we can exchange information, but often we just chat about personal stuff or things in the news, like any co-workers. Okay, we gossip about doctors too. We have to share desks and computers because there isn’t one for every PA in the office. So when it comes to “social distancing”, that’s pretty much been impossible in this particular space.
And yet I’m not complaining. That contact is, for the time being, the social highlight of my week. Most of my colleagues go home to a family but I live alone. In the 7 years since my husband died, my web of friends has been a vital source of strength and support – I even moved into the neighbourhood where most of them live.
But now, we need to physically distance ourselves from these people, whether we or they are sick or not. “We are new to social distancing, so I want to be perfectly clear,” said Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s Chief Medical Officer of Health. “Having your friends over for dinner or coffee is not social distancing”.
When my colleagues leave the hospital at day’s end, they go home and interact with their families. Last week I wondered how this was any different than me having my adult son/daughter or a friend over for pizza and wine after work one night. Not often, but once during the week, maybe on Sunday too? It didn’t make much sense to me, but on further reflection, I realize that if I ever get sick, it helps to reduce the number of contacts I’ve had outside of the hospital. It took me a few days to “get it”, and I work in infectious diseases!
In the meantime, our hospital has solved the crowded PA office issue. A couple of us are moving to the neurology clinic across the hall, since that’s now closed. We can meet the two-metre distance requirement more easily now.
I will be working long hours until this pandemic is over. It’s a very lonely feeling for single people to contemplate what might be months of physical isolation at home, even if it is just evenings and weekends. A group of us had a cocktail party on the weekend via Zoom. It was actually more enjoyable than I thought it would be. I miss seeing those friends in person, and I couldn’t share this great pork shoulder with them that I made the other night, but we raised a glass to better days ahead. And that’s not nothing.