Updated: May 23
Dr. Isabel Castro is a palliative care doctor. She is well known around the hospital, for all the difficult conversations with patients and families---heavy discussions that she has helped to navigate countless times prior to the Pandemic, and even moreso during the COVID19 pandemic of 2020. Dr. Castro wears a printout of her portrait on her white coat - to allow patients to see the face behind her mask.
Dr. Castro’s empathy and eloquence is no-doubtedly shaped by what she has experienced, what she has witnessed her patients experience, and her perception of feeling in herself and those she cares for.
“In a situation like this, which none of us have lived through – it makes us more human and vulnerable. Although we try as hard as we can to try and change the outcomes, sometimes we don’t succeed. Yet keeping present and being human for our patients and their families makes a great difference.”
“I would say to any provider, that try to put yourselves in patients’ shoes as much as you can. Sometimes we need that distance to think rationally, but remember that you are also human…and this could be something that happens to your mom, or your dad or to you. And to keep present that you are human as well.”
“Sometimes we hope for the treatment we give will make them (patients) better…and sometimes we hope for a peaceful and dignified passing into death.”
Dr. Castro describes a recent time when she was involved in the care of a young Spanish-speaking gentleman (whom she formed an automatic connection with due to Spanish also being Dr. Castro’s native language). Dr. Castro was hopeful that he would recover, and that he would soon leave the hospital. Unfortunately, that day never came. “I felt very…what would be the right word…frustrated, angry and sad and impotent that I could not change…”
Dr. Castro speaks about the separation of patients from their family members as hospitals enacted No-Visitor policies during the Pandemic.
“As a palliative care specialist, sometimes our conversations can be very difficult. What the pandemic has done is made it more challenging because of many factors – one of them…is the separation of patients from families, which is one of the most challenging things. Someone who has carefully taken care of their mom, their dad, their sibling at home all of a sudden they come into the hospital and they lose that physical contact…I think that has been very challenging. “
“Knowing that we don’t have control over situation and outcomes despite best tries…managing the pain that families are living due to the physical isolation/physical distance…trying to get patients to see their loved ones (sometimes we have video) and sometimes we (as doctors) don’t even see the patient 1:1, just simple touch, simple hug…It’s heart-wrenching for families to not be able to give their loved ones a hug.”
“It’s paradoxical in a way…I realized how much I love my job. Because I get to be a part of how to make a terrible situation bearable and how to (give families) some power in how things go. That gives me hope that my presence and my job make a difference.
I have two boys, a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old---in the morning, it’s crazy to get here on time, so that hasn’t changed much. But when I started wearing scrubs, which I normally do not---my husband who is in the medical field does…my kids were like “why are you wearing daddy’s clothes?” In the evening when I come home, by now they are trained not to hug and kiss me – I go directly to laundry and shower and then we kiss and hug. And they say “mommy, do you have the coronavirus?” And I say “no, pappi, but mommy is helping people who do.” Even though it has changed our routine, I always make sure that my kids feel loved. Be thankful of what you got, whatever that may be.”
Photographers: A.Giang, H. Del Rosario