Why Am I Running?
I CARE ABOUT MY CITY— MY HOME.
I used to avoid talking about politics and religion because they were divisive topics. As a doctor, I wanted all my patients to feel comfortable talking to me about their problems. Besides, I found meaning in action. I treated patients, advanced medical research, gave people jobs, and educated people. I worked extremely hard even under difficult conditions. I believed our politicians did, too, so I stayed in my lane. Then, during the initial lockdown—for the first time perhaps—I was glued to my television set watching our politicians’ press conferences and hearings. What I saw really disturbed me. I saw a disconnect between the “issues” our politicians talked about and the challenges the people I talked to faced everyday.
When COVID hit our city, daycare closed. Like many New Yorkers, I had to choose between continuing to work and caring for my own child. In the end, I chose to work because I knew some of my patients realistically had no other options for medical care. I thought it would be a temporary situation. But I didn’t hold my child again for 8 months.
As COVID devastated our city, I struggled to help my patients—many of whom were disabled and somehow still acting as the primary caregivers for their loved ones. I soon learned how. After Halloween, my toddler returned to us. Within two weeks of getting our toddler back, COVID infected our family. The following week, I woke up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. I was 8 months’ pregnant and woke up every hour or so. My husband was awake in the living room having a conversation with someone who wasn’t there. I realized he was delirious. I called 911. Within hours, he was on high-flow nasal ventilation.
I worried about my husband and I worried about my toddler. I was experiencing some signs of labor and some signs of severe COVID but I couldn’t see the doctor for a combination of reasons. These included lack of childcare especially since my child had COVID, concerns I might infect people such as a hired driver or other pregnant women with COVID at the OB’s office, and the costs of healthcare. My husband and I had insurance— but we had high deductibles and coinsurances. I wasn’t sure what was happening. I didn’t have my medical equipment with me in isolation. I was told that if I got hospitalized while my husband was in the hospital, the city would take my toddler—because both her parents were incapacitated. Because she was COVID positive, I couldn’t give her to people who were COVID negative, like my parents, or I would risk infecting them. Meanwhile, I was told she couldn’t be hospitalized along with me because she wasn’t sick enough. Luckily, a relative previously infected with COVID, and positive for antibodies traveled to NYC, to help us— even though she was terrified she would catch COVID again. The problem was she also had medical issues and couldn’t care for everyone— and she was scared about getting infected a second time. After 11 long days, my husband came back home—still extremely deconditioned– and I went into labor a few hours later.
When I searched for a solution for my two-year-old daughter, I heard similar stories from patients, nannies, home health aides, nurses, social workers, case managers, and doctors struggling to find care for children, parents, pets and other dependents. Many of my patients with disabilities struggled to find home health aides.
My friends with pets— especially the ones with rescue animals— said their pets were extremely anxious, especially if my friends worked 24-36 hour shifts. The rescue dogs, for example, would eat all the food at once and then starve the rest of time because they didn’t understand that they had to pace themselves. There were no dog-walkers or doggie daycare centers available. Nanny agencies and home health agencies couldn’t enter homes where someone was COVID positive, which is the problem I personally ran into. Since so many people had been infected in New York City, I wondered how the sick could possibly manage. Before I got infected myself, I treated patients who were still dealing with the after-effects of COVID. Not everyone bounced back quickly.
The city seemed to be in a state of chaos. This was most apparent to me when I experienced labor pains in December 2020. I circled the massive hospital campus on foot alone. I hadn’t called an ambulance because the pain was manageable at first. I had treated the patients all day (virtually) because I was also watching my daughter at home. Like many New Yorkers, I didn’t want to pay for an ambulance if I didn’t really need one. We didn’t have coverage for that. But as I pulled my suitcase along, I regretted my decision.
The pain was unbearable and I couldn’t find the correct entrance. It wasn’t the regular Obstetrics entrance. I didn’t pass the COVID screening questions and I had a recent positive test. They couldn’t risk me infecting the other pregnant patients so they turned me away and told me to go to the Emergency Room because I had a recent positive COVID test. It wasn’t the Emergency Room entrance either. Security redirected me because I was having contractions. They said the E.R. treated patients with COVID but not patients in labor. Only Obstetrics delivered babies. I was freezing, short of breath perhaps from COVID, and having painful contractions. I continued to walk around the concrete fortress looking for the right entrance. I thought me and my unborn baby might die right there on the dirty deserted sidewalk. Then a security guard came out of nowhere with a wheelchair to help me.
When I was 16, I had a “Code Blue” in the hospital from an abnormal heart rhythm called ventricular tachycardia. I almost died from an infection that caused my heart, lungs and bone marrow to fail. I survived and used my second chance to become a doctor. I thought about what I would do if we got through this. Hours later, my baby appeared in the operating room—like an angel emanating light– COVID antibodies flowing through her blood. I thought perhaps because I was sick, I imagined her being surrounded by light. It turned out from the photos I saw later, my impression was correct.
I had always tried to help patients with their problems: getting medical care without effective health insurance coverage, being conned out of money by scammers, being harassed by neighbors, dealing with poor housing conditions, getting quality medical care while homeless, accessing medical care without dependent care, and dealing with mental illness at home, for example. After the birth of the baby, I continued to search the city’s websites for more answers to try to help my patients with these situations. It was so confusing. It seemed like many services were being duplicated. And it seemed like the whole exercise could turn into a huge time-wasting activity for the patients.
I waited a year for a mythical “savior” to appear in the city government: someone to lead us through the pandemic. The COVID case rates, hospitalizations, and death rates continue to decrease. But people are still grieving. I can see in my own practice that some survivors of COVID have developed neurological and musculoskeletal symptoms. Meanwhile, there are divisive issues ahead of us.
We will most likely see people with more serious medical illnesses. Certain cancer diagnoses decreased in 2020. Cancer did not get better because of COVID. People will just get diagnosed at later more serious stages of cancer.
Children have been harmed in so many ways. Depression and suicide rates are up. The psychological toll is hard to quantify. My daughter, for example, doesn’t remember a time when people were out and about in the city. She is anxious when people talk to her. She is one of the lucky ones. My patients have described to me some of the challenges of teaching children, working from home, and obtaining medical care without wifi, cell service, computers or smartphones.
Small businesses have been decimated and many of the solutions proposed will make the problem worse. As a business owner myself, I understand that proposals such as giving workers the ability to freeze employers’ assets could destroy businesses. If an employee froze my business assets, I wouldn’t be able to pay the bills to take care of my patients. And I wouldn’t be able to pay the other employees either.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, New Hampshire residents working remotely are asking the Supreme Court whether they should have to pay taxes for work performed for companies based in adjacent states like Massachusetts. If such legislation goes through, workers in states like New Jersey and Connecticut can do the same. If these workers stop paying income taxes in New York, the city will lose even more tax revenue and that will damage the city’s programs even further.
I have witnessed first-hand the sacrifices that New Yorkers made. I couldn’t have treated my patients without the rest of my team. The medical assistants and receptionists I work with could have made more money by staying indoors— protecting themselves and their families from COVID. They were afraid of getting sick. They were concerned about the increasing violence in the subways. They were eligible for unemployment benefits. Yet they commuted to work on public transportation to help me and our patients. I have been a doctor for almost 20 years. I talk to New Yorkers every day. I hear stories of generosity and altruism. I see disabled patients caring for other New Yorkers all the time. While I continued to do virtual medical visits—even while I was in labor—and even within 12 hours after my C-section, I noticed that our politicians did not approach the COVID crisis with the same urgency and work ethic. They also seemed disconnected from the COVID crisis.
Soon after COVID-19 hit New York City, I saw messages in private chat rooms from medical students and medical trainees about how they were sick but afraid to report symptoms. They were afraid of getting fired or reprimanded. Depending on their circumstances, losing their jobs could translate to not being able to pay their bills, being saddled with insurmountable student loans, getting blacklisted from future career opportunities, and/ or being deported from the country. This was of particular concern to some foreign medical graduates and people on J-1 visas, for example. These doctors often work in disadvantaged areas— some of the hardest hit areas in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens, for example.
As a pain physician, I had seen this pattern of behavior before. There were signs of a serious problem that people were too afraid to talk about. I saw it first-hand with the opioid crisis when I worked at the VA treating veterans with chronic pain. People were afraid to bring up obvious signs of a crisis because of confusion associated with patient privacy laws. I directed and developed the interventional pain management program as a means to fight the opioid crisis—to give people pain treatment options other than opioids—and I fought against bullies, hiding behind patient privacy laws, who tried to intimidate patients and employees.
Because of my background in medicine and journalism, the news media regularly calls on me to analyze medical news events. Without any insider knowledge—but simply because of what I could see on the ground– I warned CNBC viewers about potential problems with COVID testing before the CDC or the FDA did. I advised Fox News viewers to wear masks before the CDC did. I also warned CNBC viewers in March 2020 about the pandemic potentially precipitating “civil unrest.” It was a confusing time for everyone. No one could have expected a life-altering pandemic to hit us out of nowhere. I didn’t. Nevertheless, as time passed and more information came out, I wondered why our government was so slow to act or even to acknowledge a potential problem.
During the lockdown, the city said it offered childcare services to frontline workers. I wanted to bring my child back home from upstate, so I searched for the details, but I couldn’t find anything online. The city’s general information numbers wouldn’t return my calls. Then my husband and I found out that daycare was available for healthcare providers—but only for those treating patients with COVID—not for those treating patients with other ailments. My patients have cancer-related pain, spinal cord injuries, brain injuries, disc herniations musculoskeletal injuries and other painful conditions. I was told I was not eligible to receive childcare during the pandemic. The whole thing seemed very strange to me but I thought maybe it was just an aberrancy. Something must have been overlooked. But the longer the pandemic raged on, the more often a person or a group was overlooked…
Now I realize there’s no savior to wait for. I’ve treated people of all different ethnicities, races, and nationalities. I’ve treated hundreds—if not thousands—of homeless people over the years, particularly when I worked for the Veterans Affairs Hospitals. I’ve treated people in the middle class and people who were extremely wealthy, too. I have treated men, women, transgender individuals and non-binary individuals. I have treated infants, children, adults, and elderly patients. I’ve treated healthy people who need a little help here and there, but I have mostly worked with the vulnerable and people with chronic illness, impairments and disabilities.
I’m the one. I am a voice of reason who can advocate for New Yorkers of all backgrounds. I can bring people– with very different points of view– to the table, so we can find some real solutions.