Ob/Gyn Dispatches During COVID-19: Richard Berkowitz, MD

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 Richard L. Berkowitz, MD, Director of Resident Education in Obstetrics and Gynecology and Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at NYP/CUIMC.

Richard L. Berkowitz, MD
Richard L. Berkowitz, MD

The thoughts expressed in this communication are directed to the members of the department of Obstetrics and Gynecology of CUIMC, but they clearly relate to everyone working their hearts out throughout the NYP network, and within the medical community all over the United States during this rapidly evolving COVID pandemic.

Why did any of us choose to go into a lifetime of medical practice? Surely there are a myriad of unique personal answers to that question, but unquestionably a large part of the answer for virtually all of us was the desire to help other people in a meaningful way. Having said that I am equally sure that virtually none of us thought that putting our own lives, and those of our loved ones, at risk was part of that commitment. Now it is – so how do we deal with that issue?

There are some people who are action junkies – folks whose most meaningful highs result from continually risking their lives, and winning that bet again and again. These are the extreme sports enthusiasts, the professional high speed racing competitors, the voluntary martial mercenaries and others of their ilk. The vast majority of us, however, do everything we can to reduce the chances of being injured, and certainly of dying. So how do we deal with this unanticipated situation where we literally have to decide whether to increase the chances of becoming infected by a lethal disorder, or bringing it into our homes to potentially jeopardize those we love most? The answer, I believe, is that we each dive into our souls and ask ourselves, “What is the right thing for me to do?” Some questions don’t have a “right” answer, but all of them ultimately have an answer that is less wrong than the other choices. For those who want to help others that are sick or terrified, and realize that they are the only ones, or are part of a health care network who can do so, the choice of taking the associated risk is exceptionally difficult. Having said that, however, I think that having made the decision to dedicate one’s life to fighting illness in others indelibly affects our DNA. It is what we do!

Heroism comes in many forms. Freedom of fear from any source is not the norm. Those few who were born with that feature have no hesitancy to jump into any arena at the risk of their lives. Are they heroes for doing so, or are they simply performing in a way for which they were uniquely programed? Most of us are afraid when confronted by a greatly increased risk of injury or death – and to me, the real heroes are those who overcome that fear and step up to do what they believe is “the right thing.” Which brings me to all of you. The members of our department, and the many support people with whom we are privileged to work, who marshal all of their energy and skills to fight the coronavirus scourge by overcoming their natural resistance to do so, are, in my opinion, truly acting heroically! That is who all of you are, and it fills me with enormous pride and gratitude to be associated with every one of you.

I personally am frustrated to have been confined to stay at home because of my age by my loving department chairperson - so I am forced to find other ways to aid the efforts of all you to win this war against the invisible enemy we are fighting. Please know, however, that I recognize and enormously admire what everyone of you is doing, and your selflessness in choosing what I believe is “the right” path. It’s easy to say that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” it is much harder to conquer that fear. You have all done that, and I love you for it. As many others have repeatedly said, we need to stand together and support each other through these harrowing times, which is absolutely essential – but make no mistake, you really are heroes in every meaningful sense of that word. Thank you for making the right choice.

Richard L. Berkowitz, MD