A day in the life of a doctor in the COVID era

A local pediatrician reminds that the battle against COVID-19 is a marathon, not a sprint

by Jeana Durst

At the beginning of the COVID outbreak, most of us were eager to throw our support behind medical workers and sought ways to help prevent the spread. Today, the outbreak continues and is just as real. We visited with a local pediatrician to better understand the challenges at hand for doctors, both at work and home.

Dr. Elizabeth Peters, a pediatrician with Mayfair Medical Group in Homewood, shows off her typical attire at work this year.

Dr. Elizbeth Peters has been in private practice in Birmingham for 18 years, so she has seen a lot. But perhaps nothing compares to the challenges of our current situation. At Mayfair Pediatrics, a Children’s of Alabama practice in Homewood, Dr. Peters sees children from birth to ages 21 for both sick and well care. When she wraps up her mostly 10-hour days, she goes home to her family, including three boys ages 11, 14, and 17. Her first move upon returning home: shed her scrubs and head immediately to the shower before having contact with anyone.

She has spent all day in the N-95 mask, only removing it to quickly eat and hydrate. And when she comes home, she brings along worries. “I hope I wore my mask correctly; I hope I washed my hands correctly. Obviously, I have been trained to do all those things well, but mentally it still wears on you. It’s a realistic fear, but at the same time, I have to do everything I can do to go forward and try not to dwell on it,” Dr. Peters says. She often considers that other parents working in different fields are perhaps even less protected without the kind of protective gear she has access to.

Dr. Peters, pictured with her husband and three sons.

Her message to all of us? “I’m afraid that right now people are having mask fatigue but we are realizing the masks really do make a difference.” She adds, “It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon, and we don’t want to give up yet—we are not on the downhill part of it right now.” Beyond wearing masks, Dr. Peters stresses the importance of social distancing and hand washing, as well as being educated about this virus. COVID is not following any rules as time goes on, she shares, and doctors are finding different symptoms and different outcomes, so the public needs to recognize that physicians are still learning more as the disease goes on.

At Mayfair Pediatrics, Peters and her colleagues take extraordinary precautions so that they can continue to care for childhood illnesses and provide routine care and immunizations—something parents should take heed to not to let lapse. “We have to constantly adjust how were are seeing and treating patients … realizing how much COVID is in our community, we have to be equally cautious with every patient we are seeing,” Dr. Peters says. In addition, they have limited the number of people in the building, closed the waiting room, and provide in-the-car COVID testing. Their normal workdays take much longer because they are constantly changing in and out of gear between patients. She reports that wearing her N95 mask for 10 hours is not comfortable, but “it’s definitely doable.” And when I ask her about how she feels about juggling her responsibilities and risks to her family, this mother and doctor says, “This is what I do.”

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