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The Daily Tar Heel

Column: My parents work in health care. Here's what I've learned

Abbas Hasan

When my father sent a photo of himself in full personal protective equipment to my family group chat, the coronavirus pandemic suddenly seemed even more real. What existed in the abstract became something that directly affects me and my family. Like so many others, the COVID-19 pandemic has become a part of my family's daily life in ways we never imagined. My whole family is back under the same roof, spring break became an entire semester and my parents' work has orbited around the uncertainty of this virus.  

Both my parents work in the healthcare industry, and the spread of the coronavirus in the U.S. has posed a significant challenge to the two of them. My father is an infectious disease doctor in Dallas. He and other health care providers are working constantly to test and treat patients with the virus. My mother works with hospice and home health care companies, and her work, too, must continue amid coronavirus concerns.

I am definitely concerned for their health, but I understand how important it is that the health care industry pushes forward during this time. Since the pandemic started, we have had to search and wait for hours to find hand sanitizer, masks and other healthcare equipment for healthcare providers. Our family practices social distancing within our home and our temperatures are checked twice daily.

As a result of the quarantine, health care industries that do not work with coronavirus specifically are struggling to maintain their staff and stay afloat. My mother’s hospice company is one of those businesses. Small business loans are available from the government, but naturally, organizing in this time is difficult. It is important to remember that among all the coronavirus concerns, people still have normal health care issues that need to be addressed.

Health care providers are especially vulnerable in this time as resources run thin and the number of cases grows exponentially. Healthcare providers are not brave heroes fighting on the frontlines of a war. They are human beings who are overworked, underprepared and put at high risk for a potentially fatal illness. It is of no surprise, then, how quickly this disease is spreading. 

Although my parents are either working directly or indirectly with patients with coronavirus, the social distancing life is relatively calm. Still, I do wipe down every surface my father touches in our house with Clorox wipes. I understand how privileged I am during this time to have a comfortable home, stable family life, good health and access to resources. That is not true for so many across this country (Here is a list of some places to donate, or ways to think about donating effectively in this time, if you are able). 

As my sister and I stress about the worsening pandemic, my dad is quick to remind us that this is not the first time deadly diseases have come to this country. Influenza, HIV/AIDS, the swine flu, the Zika virus, West Nile virus and Ebola have all posed serious threats to global health in the last 30 years.

I am all for optimism. I do have hope that things will get better and life will go on past this month, this summer and next year. I am looking forward to coming back to campus and seeing everyone I have missed. I am proud of not just healthcare providers, but everyone around the world tackling this terrifying problem. 

But underlying this optimism and pride is a genuine understanding that lives either have been or will be irreparably damaged by the time this pandemic is over. That weighs heavy on my mind.

Although uncertainty seems to be the norm now, I know some things are certain to help: practice social distancing, wash your hands often, do not leave your residence if you are sick and clean your surfaces.

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