Nancy Figueroa is a writer of non-fiction and fiction, living in Toronto, Ontario.
When I ask my sons about work, I no longer want to hear their answers. John and Mike are General Internal Medicine specialists. Both regularly treat patients with COVID-19. I worry for my sons. But this is nothing new. I’ve been waltzing with worry for decades.
In the early days of the pandemic, I agonized about their dad too. Richard, a physician, is 72 but with a dedication to the profession that belies his age. When I first heard whispers about the virus in Canada, I tormented myself thinking: Oh no, what if Richard, John and Mike all catch COVID from their patients?
Sometimes I jostle awake in the middle of the night, haunted by stories of physicians who’ve died of COVID-19. I have to remind myself to breathe, just breathe. I was relieved when Richard’s hospital announced no one over seventy could work on the front-line. Richard was disheartened and dismayed.
Me? I was ecstatic, although I tried to hide this from him. He found other medical work, putting his degree in public health and epidemiology to good work with Toronto Public Health on its COVID-19 response. What a relief that one of my three men of medicine was safe, but what about the other two?
John, 36, moved to Calgary in February 2020. We’d planned to visit each other in June, October and December. COVID-19 laughed at our plans as it did to everyone else.
My toughest moments were last fall when John – working at Foothills Medical Centre, where the virus was raging – had to self-isolate and monitor for symptoms. One of John’s patients, not suspected of having COVID-19, tested positive. I breathed properly only when John’s test result was negative. Still, I wonder when I will see him again. I miss my first-born child.
Mike, 34, is on staff at Mount Sinai Hospital and lives near us in Toronto, but feels thousands of miles away. We’ve seen him only four times since COVID-19 struck; each time we wear masks and socially distance outside. Last July he paid me a short birthday visit but there were no hugs, no dinner and no drinks. I made do with a short walk, both of us masked and walking well apart from each other. It was strange, yet I was thankful to see his face… if only from the eyes up.
I once broke protocol with Mike. On a gorgeous November day on the shores of Lake Ontario, he proposed to his girlfriend, a veterinarian. When they stopped by our backyard – grinning behind their masks and holding up a newly ringed finger – I couldn’t help myself. I ran and gave him a big squishy nine-months-in-the-making hug. I felt so guilty.
Knowing vaccines are available helps to ease my worries (a touch). Still, the end of this pandemic is nowhere in sight. Families of doctors everywhere hope the world follows public health guidelines. We need to see our sons and daughters. We need to hug them. The dance of worried motherhood continues.