The COVID-19 Tunnel: Finding the Way From Darkness Into the Light

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The fight against COVID-19 often felt like walking in a dark tunnel, with no way to know when you were getting closer to the other side. The darkness overwhelmed me at times. The scary part about the tunnel was also that you couldn’t see what was coming at you. That is until it was right in front of you. The initial information that was put out, was that children would be safe from this illness. The prevailing thought early in the tunnel was that you needed to worry about your grandparents.

Those of us (especially my fellow pediatric colleagues) felt that we could slightly lower our guard as our primary patient population would not be at risk. We would do everything we could to keep those in our community who were vulnerable safe, but perhaps we would not be affected in the workplace. At first, that seemed to be the case. In fact, our census was even lower than usual. With kids out of school and daycares—the usual spaces and places where germs spread—our patients seemed to be healthier than usual.

The Mystery of COVID-19’s MIS-C

Just when we had gotten used to the lower numbers of patients—and almost had our guard down—the youngest COVID positive patients appeared. And several months after their initial infection, they came sicker than we imagined. This was when we learned about MIS-C (Multi-system Inflammatory Syndrome in Children), a brand new syndrome that seems to specifically affect children after they had been sick with COVID-19. We quickly found it could cause significant illness and a prolonged hospital stay. This was a completely brand-new illness process. Learning how to treat it required both patience and ingenuity. As the adult infections surged around us, it was unclear if and when we would be tasked with taking care of any of the overflows of COVID-19 patients. This was the case with some of our colleagues around the country.

A New Hope Emerges

The COVID-19 tunnel had many twists and turns, but then in early December, some brightness appeared. I squinted when the news arrived because I was not used to light at this point. An e-mail in my inbox revealed that the vaccine for this dangerous illness was coming in a matter of weeks. I could barely believe what I was reading. I reread the email twice in honest disbelief. It was so soon. It was coming the same year during which this terror started. I felt I might have to see it to believe it.

Then, a week prior to Christmas, I got the biggest gift a frontline healthcare worker could ask for. A vaccine, a piece of hope, a bright light at the end of the tunnel that allows us to see what could be the end. I felt nervous before my first dose— as if I was a true pioneer. Would there be a strange reaction? What would happen? I realized though, that the real pioneers were the thousands of volunteers who were part of the phase 3 trial ahead of me. Their brave participation is how we know the vaccine is safe.

Photo by Steven Cornfield on Unsplash

I excitedly rolled up my sleeve and then felt invincible. I had some arm pain around the injection site but otherwise went about my day. The second and final shot in the vaccine series came and I was much more nervous. Many of my colleagues had about 24-48 hours of chills, fevers, headache, and body aches. I took the day following my vaccine off in anticipation. I got lucky and did not feel much beyond the arm pain. Though I would have happily taken the brief onset of controlled symptoms. Particularly when compared to potentially weeks and months of an actual COVID-19 infection.

Mothers Should Do Their Research About Receiving the COVID-19 Vaccine

There were not pregnant and breastfeeding women included in these initial trials. However, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology feel it is safe to receive the vaccine while pregnant and breastfeeding. There have also been rumors circulating online that the vaccine is not safe to take for those trying to get pregnant or those who plan to get pregnant in the future. There is no scientific basis to these claims, however. Everything people post on social media is not always true. I urge everyone to verify their sources of information.

The COVID-19 Vaccine Shines Light Over Darkness

This COVID-19 tunnel might continue to have more twists and turns we cannot see. What I know right now is we continue to have record numbers of people getting sick, losing their lives, or having many potentially life-altering complications as a result. As the light flickers on for more of us as the vaccine becomes more widely available outside of this first group, I hope many will step forth. This light will guide us all towards the end of the tunnel. If we refuse to turn it on there will be more darkness and uncertainty. While we do not have all the answers we might want about the vaccine, we know enough to know that this is the best hope we right now. Let’s take this leap of faith and hope together.

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Tamara Gayle Blackwood, MD, MEd is a board-certified pediatric physician. Prior to medical school her passion for education led her to complete the Teach for America program, serving as a high school biology teacher in the Bronx. She completed her Master’s in Education at Pace University in New York City, NY. Following her time in the Bronx, she completed her MD at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine in Miami, FL. Dr. Gayle Blackwood stayed in Miami for her residency training completing her training at Jackson Memorial Hospital. After her residency Dr. Gayle Blackwood went on to pursue a Hospital Medicine Fellowship at Children’s National in Washington, DC. During her fellowship training she was awarded a grant as a RAPID Scholar to research food insecurity and asthma in disadvantaged Black children. Dr. Gayle Blackwood is currently pursuing a Master’s in Public Health at George Washington University. She is on faculty at Children’s National Hospital as an attending in the Hospital Medicine Division and an Assistant Professor through George Washington University. Dr. Gayle Blackwood lives with her husband in Northeast DC and enjoys cooking, traveling, and volunteering in her community. She also has virtual classes for expecting parents to teach them everything they need to know to feel ready for their newborn. You can follow her on instagram @realtalkwithdrtam.