At a time when most of us are doing everything we can to avoid contact with COVID-19, Randy Jotte, MD, an emergency department physician at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, faces it almost daily.
Worried that he might infect his family, Dr. Jotte has been living separately at a location in a neighboring county. By the end of April, he had been away from his home for about two months except for short visits in which he maintained at least a six-foot distance.
Yet, Dr. Jotte, an associate professor of emergency medicine at Washington University School of Medicine, looks at the silver lining.
“My wife and I have been married 29 years. Now that we must be apart, the opportunity to be together, even briefly, is wonderful. Even with this quarantine, it’s almost like we’re dating again,” he says. “We go for long walks but we don’t touch and we keep a social distance and really appreciate one another’s company. It makes me think back to that time and it’s a nice little touch.”
Dr. Jotte says he tries to see his wife and two sons at least once a week, even if it’s from the driveway of their home. He is avoiding grocery and retail stores, so on those visits, his wife keeps him stocked up with essentials. It’s also an opportunity to pick up care packages that friends and family leave for him on the patio.
“I miss the personal contact, but it’s important to protect them,” he says. “And, I’ve always considered myself lucky. I think of this isolation as a time for personal reflection, like a personal retreat. There are so many things that we take for granted. We’re all going to be a bit different on the other side of this.”
He said he’s also grateful that the patient flow into the hospital’s emergency department has remained under control during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although there has been an influx of patients with coronavirus symptoms, it has been balanced out by a decline in the number of other individuals who might have sought emergency department care under normal circumstances.
control during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although there has been an influx of patients with coronavirus symptoms, it has been balanced out by a decline in the number of other individuals who might have sought emergency department care under normal circumstances.
And although donning and doffing the required personal protection equipment is cumbersome and extra cleaning takes time, Dr. Jotte says these precautions have been keeping the emergency department staff safe. In fact, the only two doctors who have contracted COVID-19 were infected when they were at an out-of-state conference and remained quarantined until they recovered.
Asked if he was personally concerned about becoming infected, Dr. Jotte answered with the story of a patient he recently treated. The patient, a single mother of a middle school child, had come to the emergency department because she was worried she had contracted COVID-19. Dr. Jotte was the one who had to tell her that her suspicions were correct.
“You could see that everything started running through her mind,” he says. “She began to cry uncontrollably and I had to get the chaplain to talk to her. When you see something like this, all you can think of is how can I help. You go into your ‘I know what to do here’ role and you don’t think about yourself.”
“It’s tough sometimes, but it’s what we decided to do,” he says. “And we are glad to do it.”
Dr. Jotte ended with a happy postscript: the single mother has since recovered and was discharged from the hospital.