How long have you lived in Westport, and how old are your children? We have lived in Westport for 13 years, since June 2007. I have 4 children; my oldest son is 17, a junior at Staples; boy/girl twins who are 13 in 7th grade at Bedford, and my youngest son is 10 in 4th grade at Saugatuck Elementary.
What were you doing/focused on before these crazy times (i.e., pre-March 2020)? Prior to March 2020 I was working full time as the Medical Director of Inpatient Behavioral Health at Norwalk Hospital. I have worked there for 11+ years. Outside of the hospital I conduct independent psychiatric evaluations of hospitalized patients for the probate courts of Westport/Weston, New Canaan, Stamford, Stratford and Bridgeport. And also juggling the sports, social and school calendars of the 4 kids 🙂 In late January of this year life got a little dicey when a small invasive tumor was discovered in my right breast on a routine mammogram. I went from full time doctor to full time patient overnight! I have had a wonderful team of colleagues at Norwalk Hospital take me successfully through surgery and now chemotherapy. Since my immune system is compromised I had to take a leave of absence from my hospital work just as the COVID pandemic intensified. It was a difficult decision to step away from work and I have to admit it has been challenging to “focus on myself” during this illness, as like most moms on earth we rarely do that. Luckily most days I feel well, and I am still able to work remotely for the courts to see patients in crisis in that capacity.
How has your day to day life changed most in the last 6-8 weeks? Life has changed pretty dramatically over the last 6-8 weeks with the cessation of school and being home full time. I spend my days guiding the schooling, keeping up with the house, and feeding everyone! That alone is a full time job. I am used to being up and out by 7:30am, going full speed until 9pm, keeping all the balls in the air. In that way life has halted. It’s been over a decade since I was home during the day, and although this is not how I planned it to be, I am enjoying the slower pace and simplicity of hunkering down. Also, as I said I am now doing all my patient care remotely. It is easy and effective to see patients over video means and you can still build a rapport. A lot of my colleagues are also finding it an efficient platform for providing care, one that we will no doubt incorporate into our practices even when life gets back to “normal.” I am also active as a volunteer for the Physician Support Line, an national organization run by psychiatrists to offer support to our physician colleagues during this crisis. That is immensely rewarding to be able to offer my expertise to other doctors struggling with various issues this pandemic presents.
We can only begin to imagine how emotionally taxing the work you are doing (especially given your circumstances) must be, especially with kids at home. Can you share a story or anecdote from your experiences that have helped to remind you how important and valuable the work you are doing truly is? As I perform my work for the courts and the hotline, I am reminded that this pandemic is an ongoing threat to life and safety and there are many vulnerable people of all socio-economic states with personal history of trauma who are susceptible to re-traumatization. Some people may not have the support system or the coping skills to deal with the overwhelming anxiety and stress this situation causes. Some may be prone to psychiatric decompensation. This applies to the whole spectrum of the human race from the persistently and severely mentally ill living in group homes to the high functioning health care worker. We in the psychiatric community are bracing for the aftermath of this trauma and mobilizing now to provide the necessary care to all people in need. COVID in psychiatric patients is also a unique challenge. I recently evaluated a woman with schizophrenia and intellectual disability who contracted COVID but also was experiencing psychosis. She was isolated in her room on the psychiatric unit, visited by staff fully protected infrequently. She eats alone and was not able to socialize with other patients which is an essential component of recovery and treatment. It was an extremely challenging situation for patient and treaters and the compassionate care she was receiving was remarkable.
What have these times shown you about the Westport community? I have been impressed with Westport’s response to this crisis. Town government acted swiftly to the initial outbreak and has communicated with residents frequently and comprehensively, which is critical during crisis. The schools have also handled the immense undertaking of developing a distance learning curriculum with flexibility and resilience. And all the restaurants have adapted to continue to provide us with yummy food in a safe and convenient way! I hope curbside pick up continues to be an option even after all this subsides. Lastly, I absolutely feel terrible for the children in Westport who are missing parts of their lives they can never get back, but their response has been inspirational.
Is there anything further those of us at home can do to further support you – and the medical professionals on the front lines? Speaking on behalf of my colleagues, please continue to stay home. It really does matter! It works to reduce spread of infection which keeps the burden out of the hospitals. Also, don’t do dangerous things which could get yourself or others injured! Slow down driving on the roads, wear a helmet and be careful on your trampolines! You don’t want to end up in the emergency room for a preventable injury.
Do you see a light at the end of the tunnel? And / or do you have any advice for moms – and parents out there – that you wish you could scream from the rooftops? I do see a light at the end of the tunnel. Personally, I will return to work on June 15th. I am eager to return to providing hospital based care to the most vulnerable mentally ill people of our community. In the meantime, I would say to other moms (and dads) that you are doing a great job. These are unprecedented times with no clear pathways. Speak to yourself with compassion and empathy, connect with your kids, meet them emotionally where they are and support each other as humans. We are all doing the best we can, and that’s enough.
Many of us have turned to sweets, wine, and other vices to get through this challenging time. Do you have anything right now when you come home that helps you get through your days? I set up a gym area in my basement and I steal away down there each day. I found some great online yoga videos on YouTube which are enjoyable and beneficial. I try to get outside every day for at least a walk with the dog and maybe do a light weight workout. I also talk to myself in a positive way, reminding myself all that I did accomplish that day even when it seems like I did “nothing.”
Finally, what is the one thing you are most excited to do when all of this ends? When my treatment and this pandemic have subsided, I am looking forward most to hugging my boyfriend. He is truly a hero on the frontlines and we have been painfully 8 feet apart for months. After that I can’t wait to travel. We had to cancel a trip to Ireland in May. I am so heartbroken about that. We will stay a little closer to home and maybe head to Cape May for a weekend. I also would like to just go to Homegoods for some leisurely browsing!