Mother’s Day is the time to appreciate the hard-working women in our lives. This year, more than ever, we not only recognize the strength and resilience of our own mothers, but we are acutely aware just how much moms across the nation are doing to help those in need. Whether it is by taking over teaching responsibilities, balancing work and family on a minute-by-minute basis, or – for those healthcare workers - providing much needed healthcare and support for the sick, moms are showing just what superheroes they truly are during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Sumita Khatri is one mom who is on the frontlines of this deadly disease. As an adult asthma and lung specialist, she also works as a pulmonary and critical care physician in Cleveland Clinic’s ICU. When the outbreak began, her normally busy schedule became even more chaotic and overwhelming. So, she sprang into action, working to free up her trainees from outpatient duties so they could rest up for the work ahead, consolidating outpatient practices and helping the group transition to virtual care. She also helped set up a surge hospital to manage the influx of COVID-19 patients. “Knowing that we cannot predict what is coming has challenged all of us to have an adaptable and agile mindset, and also to be thankful for small wins,” she said.

These small wins extend to her home, where her husband, her parents, her in-laws and her four teenagers have been sheltering in place. Though she admits that time management and juggling has increased, she has been impressed by her family’s ability to band together and divide up the work in order to ensure that everyone remains safe. “Our children are protective of their grandparents and have become very independent and helpful with work around the home,” she said. “I am more thankful, and our family is closer than ever.”

Similarly, Dr. Christy Sadreameli, a pediatric pulmonologist at Johns Hopkins, has been adjusting to the new work schedule while trying to care for her one-year-old. Though she is only going into the hospital on a rotating basis, the strain of implementing new health protocols while balancing time at home near her child continues to be a challenge. 

“I have occasionally heard a comment implying that we have ‘free time’ right now to catch up on things. For me it is the opposite. I have less time than ever,” she explained. “That first week was really the toughest week. Our institution had to rapidly deploy telemedicine, and we had to get trained very quickly. My husband was experiencing similar things, even though he is not in healthcare. He also had many meetings, trying to figure out how to do his job from home. It was hard on our baby too. His schedule got interrupted so he suddenly had a hard time sleeping and eating.” 

Dr. Christy Sadreameli and her son.

But Dr. Sadreameli quickly adapted, settling into a new routine that involved conducting telehealth visits from her dining room and taking emergency patients at the clinic, while also sharing the task of entertaining her active toddler with her husband since daycare has been suspended. “I don’t think you need to be a parent to be a really wonderful pediatrician, but it certainly made me a better one. It has created a new level of consideration, personally—as I do my best to avoid COVID-19, I have my husband and my son to think about. I want to stay healthy and not infect them, along with staying healthy so I can provide care to my patients.”

Dr. Meilan Han and her family

Dr. MeiLan Han, a Professor of Pulmonary Medicine at the University of Michigan and principal investigator for the American Lung Association’s Airways Clinical Research Centers network, has also been feeling this added stress. “This has been an incredibly stressful time for healthcare workers, unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It’s one thing to be worried about one’s own safety. It is entirely another to be fearful that your job might actually bring harm to your family, and that has been very hard to come to terms with,” she explained. 

Like everyone else, Dr. Han admits to struggling with finding a new rhythm during the pandemic. Her work with lung disease patients at the hospital has completely transitioned to virtual visits and her research projects have been put on hold while everyone turns their resources to study COVID-19. At the same time, she is trying to juggle her child’s Zoom meetings along with her own. “It is very difficult to contain my work into a typical ‘workday’ anymore so conference calls on evenings and weekends have become my new normal. I wish I could say I have achieved a ‘state of balance’ but I’m honestly just doing my best every day for my family and my patients,” she said.

Additionally, she believes that being a mother has helped her prioritize during a time where multitasking has been not only necessary, but essential. “I’ve had to do some real soul searching about where I can have the greatest impact right now and which projects deserve my attention.”

Dr. Khatri agrees that being a mother has helped her in her profession because it has influenced her accountability for the safety, health and well-being of her patients and colleagues. “We are all in this together— they are my family too,” she said. “I notice others are having tenderness and care for others as if they are family as well.”

“I am so amazed at the selflessness and generosity of my colleagues and am humbled to have the privilege of working with them,” Dr. Han agreed. 

“I know many super moms, both in healthcare and out. And just superwomen in general, moms or not,” said Dr. Sadreameli. So, on this annual day of appreciating our mothers, let us also remember the hard work of these doctors and the many other essential workers who will be spending the day helping us tackle this awful disease. 

“Each one of my colleagues is a superhero!” Dr. Khatri agreed. When anyone cares for their loved ones, it adds a layer of responsibility—one does not need to be a mother to be ‘mothering,’ empathetic or compassionate. There are many caring individuals who treat their patients and colleagues as family.”

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