Last week I had the occasion to spend time in a cancer hospital located in NYC. My son had tests, a routine that he’s had countless times before, so a three day ‘visit’ that we have come to know well. The hospital had been reaching out proactively to make sure we understood all of the safety precautions that had been put in place in order to feel safe about returning.

Truth be told, in the hospital, I felt safe. Very safe. My son as well.

But I also felt confused.

When we first entered the hospital on a Monday morning, the first thing I noticed were the masks. More confirmatory than anything else. The second thing I noticed was the lack of people. What was normally a hallway that we had to weave in and out of groups of medical professionals waiting for different elevators, was empty. We didn’t have to wait for the elevator. And when it opened, there were four squares, one in each corner, telling us where to stand.

When we arrived at check in, I experienced my first (of many) mask-induced communication challenges: relaying a hard to understand/unusual name without the benefit of lip reading. Because at this hospital, no one takes their masks down, never mind temporarily off. Even when discussing much more important matters than name and date of birth. Or even when not discussing matters at all.

Case in point: getting diagnostic imaging. Anyone that has undergone a scan with some element of diagnostic urgency to it knows the feeling of wanting to ask the technician questions and/or intuit findings based on body language. As one scan was nearly over I saw a new person appear behind the glass and she had the most serious eyes. She’d look down at the computer screen, say a few words, and then stare in at us. Just these two eyes. With no other information. Was she smiling? Was she speaking? Was it about us?

Other observations and experiences:

  • Patients were on point about where to stand in elevators –  very compliant.
  • Temperature screening was hit or miss. I was screened once out of four main door entrances. I was also required to change my street mask only one of four times.
  • This visit there was no hug with the NP who has been indispensable to our experience and positive outcomes. That was a first.

Everyone we came into contact with was genuinely helpful and happy to be helping patients again. I felt humbled, that they had all worked through COVID while I’d been working from my cozy, safe home.

But I also felt worried – where were all of the other patients?

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