Faces of COVID

Lakshman Swamy – Intensivist

Lakshman is an intensivist and ICU physician from Boston and creator of Critical Care: the Game.

“Since we last spoke a year ago, there are some important ways that things have changed dramatically and in other ways, unfortunately, haven’t changed at all.

One thing that’s different is the tension that was so palpable and terrifying and the deep fear that we didn’t understand what was happening is gone.

I remember being scared of being near my colleagues to the point that we wouldn’t even eat in the hospital. It felt like at any time if I put on or took off my equipment in the wrong way that I’d somehow get sick and bring it home to my family.

Thankfully, after we got past the first surge and into the summer, that disappeared. Now, we mostly have a shared understanding of how bad it was, the despair that we felt, and the trauma that we still carry with us.

One thing that still hasn’t changed, unfortunately, is that it’s still empty here. We don’t let family in, and it can still lead to what I think is the most horrific in-hospital outcome right now, which is someone dying without their family being there.

Getting vaccinated is still something that feels like it wasn’t real.

When I saw the email, I just froze. I was standing in my bedroom, staring at my phone, and it took a second to really crystallize before I rushed to make the appointment. Once I got back, I really started to feel the privilege of knowing that I’m not going to die from this. I was walking around the same world, but it felt different.

Looking forward, I don’t think COVID is going to just disappear, and our lives will be forever changed, but I think we can restore a lot of things to normal again, starting with schools. My 7 y.o. has missed a whole year of school and it’s easy to see the effects. There are people who have been set back in profound ways, and applying an equity lens to this will make a huge impact. It’s going to be a long road to recovery for our society, but we can expect things to get better, and I’m looking forward to that.”


Author’s Note: Lakshman’s story last April resonated with me even as the pandemic progressed. His description of the COVID ICU was bleak and illustrated the trauma that health-care workers carried with them even as they cared for others. Perhaps most strikingly, he recounted the weight of silence and the duty of bearing witness. I wanted to catch up with Lakshman to once again hear his perspective from Boston, learn from what he has been through, and share the responsibility of bearing witness.

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Rishi Bansal


Rishi Bansal is a medical student at McMaster University, co-founder of the storytelling initiative Faces of COVID, and a deputy editor at Healthy Debate. He is interested in health systems leadership, advocacy, and innovation.

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