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Working From Home with Jesse Berry

Working From Home with Jesse Berry
April 22, 2020 Marie

As a new mom working in the medical profession, how are you coping?

This is a stressful time for everyone and the extra stress on those working in the medical profession is really palpable – and multifocal. On one hand, many of our clinics have been cancelled. Routine, non-urgent clinics and surgeries have been cancelled to enable social distancing and to prevent further spread of this virus. I practice ocular oncology (eye cancer) so acute patients needing active treatment are still being cared for but everything else is being pushed out. It is the right thing to do, but it’s hard. Many of my ‘stable’ patients are still under surveillance for cancer recurrence or other treatment related toxicity and those visits have been pushed out a month or two with the hopes that this will calm down.

It is also stressful to watch your colleagues in other parts of the world struggle on the front lines: in the ER and ICU and to do so with limited resources (you’ve all heard of the lack of PPE – personal protective equipment). I have been really lucky (blessed, really) that I have had access to surgical masks, eye shields, gloves and disinfecting products both in the clinic and in the OR. But many of my colleagues around the world have not. I have many college and medical school friends working in NY right now and leading by example in the fight against Covid here in the United States. These practitioners are responding fast, selflessly pivoting and taking on roles that push the boundaries of their scope of practice. OBs limiting (or completely eliminating) partners during labor and delivery, ophthalmologists being in line for ICU call (to clarify its been years and years since most ophthalmologists have spent time in an ICU, that’s not our skill set). These are the obstacles we are all facing, but particularly in NY where there are so many cases. It is insane to me that in 2020 we don’t have masks for the doctors and nurses taking care of sick patients – it has been hard as a physician to hear this. Everyone has felt stressed about it – and even if you have masks you start to ask yourself, should I reuse this? Should I just keep one on all day? Should I try to clean it (they’re paper so it’s not that easy) ? What if my hospital runs out like others have? It’s rough.

The other stress for moms who like me are probably spending more time at home is that there are additional childcare responsibilities. We decided to have our nanny quarantine at home so I will be in the middle of a Webex or Zoom conference call (so many of these, you have no idea) or responding to an email and I will hear Daphne crying. Or I walk to the fridge to grab juice and instead decide to clean it! Working at home is not easy and definitely makes any sort of balance or separation very difficult.

What does your average day look like?

One thing I have really prioritized is keeping a routine. I have two close girlfriends, also MDs, and nearly every day we do a Peloton ride together at 5:30 am. It is such a great stress relief and keeps us all sane and on a schedule. Then I get ready. Even if I will be at home I make myself get ready in some way. Otherwise I won’t be in a work mind set and I need to be. If I have clinic I will head out, otherwise I go up to my home office and try to be productive. I have multiple conference calls related to covid, new covid policies in the hospital, etc every day starting at 7 am. Then I often will write, work on some manuscripts from our research. I really try to write when Daphne naps and allow myself a little break to have lunch with her in between. I am lucky to have a super supportive partner who helps with her too. Then I will have several hours of conference calls in the afternoon. I am working on new ways to feel engaged and connected during these calls – but it’s rough. One thing I had to do was turn the news alerts on my computer off. Otherwise every 20 seconds it was another alert about the sky falling – not great for focus!

If I am in the hospital I try to say hello to everyone there. And I mean everyone. My colleagues, the nurses, the clerks, the security guards, the cleaning and maintenance workers, the barista. Everyone. Because all of these humans are showing up to make that hospital run and I could not be more grateful for them.

I am extra cautious about disinfection when I come home from the hospital. I wear scrubs only right now and I throw them into the wash. Shoes off at the door and immediately shower. I am cautious to wipe down my phone and even to keep my work bag away from the baby.

What are the biggest challenges you are facing right now?

Staying positive and in focus. The news does not help. Even social media is harder for me to digest right now. It’s a struggle with dichotomy. We have all had so many aspects of our daily lives come to a halt and yet we are still moving forward. I think it’s this tension between seeing my colleagues plea for PPE juxtaposed against posts making the most of the added time at home; such as which home facial remedies are the best. Look, I am a girl who loves a good facial but it’s really jarring. I am also trying to be a positive voice for my colleagues and our trainees – those in medical school or still in residency. Most of them are terrified right now that they’re going to get sick, or going to be asked to provide types of care (like critical care) that they aren’t comfortable doing any longer simply because there aren’t enough people. I haven’t seen it happen yet but that concern is there.

What are you doing to ‘stay sane’?

Exercise for sure and a routine. I really feel like days with no framework can be hard to digest. We are all in this really surreal time and not having foundations and patterns and routines is really disorienting. Plus, whether from work or from home (or both), you can get pulled in 100 different directions at the same time. Working from home makes it even harder to compartmentalize these demands. I’ve always been a creature of habit but sticking to a routine is key for me. Even on days that I am home I try to actually schedule the time I need for things (with breaks) in my calendar. It’s imperfect. I am still finishing some stuff up on Tuesday that I thought I’d complete Monday, but it gives me structure and helps me focus.

I am also trying to keep up some semblance of normal. As I type this I’m seeing my chipped gel nails and it’s making me nuts. Normally of course I’d go to the salon but instead I will tackle these myself later.

Any advice for new mom’s who are feeling anxious about the current climate?

As a doctor and doctor of littles, I am really glad that so far most kids seem to handle this virus well without need for critical care. That doesn’t mean to be lax about hand washing but simply that the vast majority of kids are doing great. We still aren’t entirely sure why but we do know that underlying lung issues come into play with older adults faring worse.

Second, try to turn off the news for stretches. Mom’s – especially new moms – are prone to being hyperaware and a little nervous. The catastrophizing of the media doesn’t help. Even though I am a doctor and can see through some of the hype, I too have needed too ‘unplug’ from the news and media

Third, give yourself grace right now. I prefer my kitchen sink to have no dishes in it and for Daphne to almost never have screen time. Guess what? Right now I have a sink full of dishes – which means that we ate and I am blessed about that – and I have a perfectly happy, healthy kid who likes to dance to Baby Bum (true) which she watches a fair amount of these days. Letting go of perfect, as much as you can, is the only way to survive a quarantine. Oh, and fresh air! As a family we try to get fresh air once a day, even if it means just standing in the back yard for 5 minutes.

How do you stay motivated?

Knowing your WHY is always really important to me. Simon Sinek talks about it – basically not asking what you do, but why you do it. As a doctor that’s very clear, my why is taking care of patients during a really hard time – which usually means after a cancer diagnosis — and doing my best to provide them with the best treatment available. I really value that I can be there for my patient (and the parents of my little patients) during a critical time. This is another critical time – cancer, trauma, eye emergencies – all of these things still happen regardless of the corona virus. So I remind myself what an honor it is to do what I do and to be there for others in their time of need. It is hard some days, but when I feel frustrated or less motivated, I always go back to my why.

Do you think this has changed people’s priorities and perspectives at all?

First, our communities are really coming together. Restaurants are providing meals for people working at the hospitals. Patients are sewing cloth masks. One of the moms of a retinoblastoma patient sewed all of these masks and sent them to me to give to my colleagues and to the other young kids in the hospital. People are outside walking or playing in their front yard way more. We went for a walk the other day and there was a box in front of someone’s house offering free books (yes, sanitize the book!). That communities are really coming together and showing up for one another is clear. I think we as a society will be forever changed from this – a lot of the changes are heartbreaking – but I hope some of the little things stick.

Photo credit: Children’s Hospital Los Angeles

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