Ob/Gyn Dispatches During COVID-19: Dara Matseoane-Peterssen, MD, MPH

Each day during the COVID-19 pandemic, we'll share an update from a member of our team in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. Today's note is from Dara Matseoane-Peterssen, MD, MPH, Chief of General Obstetrics and Gynecology at NYP/Allen Hospital.

Dara Matseoane-Peterssen, MD, MPH
Dara Matseoane-Peterssen, MD, MPH

I have been thinking a lot about two communities recently: one made up of the patients my division serves; the other of the people with whom I work. Both communities have been challenged by this pandemic, and both are meeting this challenge with the grit and determination Maya Angelou invokes with the words: “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.” 

For some of our patients, this crisis highlights the inequities in society. How can a patient with COVID-19 isolate themselves and keep their family safe when they live in a single room with five other people? How can hourly workers help flatten the curve when staying home means loss of income or unemployment? How will some of our patients survive when their rates of chronic disease are higher, access to care is lower, and sources of support are few?

For our community of healthcare providers, there are the challenges of responding to a novel virus: learning quickly how to identify and care for the sick, and reconfigure a system not designed to care for so many at once. For my community of medical educators: how do we balance allowing students and residents opportunities to learn and contribute with protecting the most junior members of the team?

In the face of stress, fear and uncertainty, I am comforted and inspired by what I am finding to be true:

First: there are many ways to be brave right now, and no one “better” way. Some of our colleagues (and patients) are on the front lines, caring for the sickest of us at risk to themselves. Others are giving up things they hold dear, like time with friends and family, sleep, and even jobs, for the greater good. Some are just “keeping it moving” in spite of carrying burdens that might cripple someone else. May we all find our own ways to be brave.

Next: we rise to the challenge. Always. We show up and we shoulder the load together. We support each other by checking in and sharing lessons learned. We are brave enough to try new things and humble enough to try again when we see we can do better. I’ve seen this determination in my students, residents, colleagues in nursing and medicine, and also in our leadership. I have also seen it in the unsung heroes of healthcare: the unit assistant and registration staff who greet patients as they arrive, risking exposure as they set the tone for each patient’s stay; the environmental services team, whose efforts do more to contain COVID-19 than mine do; the folks in materials management who track, reorder, and restock our PPE; the techs, who shoulder additional burdens; and the schedulers, who ensure all shifts are covered, getting creative when there are unexpected call-outs. May we all find ways to persist.

Finally, in the words of Gandhi: “In the midst of death, life persists; in the midst of untruth, truth persists; in the midst of darkness, light persists.” It may not be readily apparent, but I promise that you will see it if you stop and look around. As I write this, I am on the labor floor, with stat pages periodically piercing the silence to call teams to rapid responses, codes, and intubations in other areas of the hospital. Here we continue to welcome new lives into the world as women rise to the challenge of labor and delivery. I recently attended the birth of a beautiful baby girl. The patient did not have anyone with her, but she FaceTimed her family so three generations were able to cheer for her as she pushed, and everyone saw the baby as I lifted her up and placed her on her mother’s chest. When all was done, I said I was sorry that she had to labor and deliver alone. The new mother shook her head, smiled and said, “It’s ok. I was ok. God is here.” In the midst of darkness, there is always light. May we all walk our paths with this certainty and grace.

Dara Matseoane-Peterssen, MD, MPH