When Sania approached me to write my story, I questioned, “What did I do so different than the others?” Actually, I had never acknowledged what I had experienced and achieved this year. She reminded and enlightened me that this is a story worthy of telling.
So here’s it goes:
I kicked off my last year of residency as the chief resident of the EM program in DHA. It started off smoothly with me going through the motions with scheduling for academic days, workshops for the first years, resident rotations & ED rotas. This was all going to change as soon as the pandemic hit- and it hit pretty bad. Everything had to be redesigned and rescheduled. With the able assistance of my co-chief, we weathered many changes. Learning took a turn for the virtual on the academic days. There needed to be constant communication and engagement to make sure the residents were attended to. The residents who were prone to the disease, had chronic illnesses or were immunocompromised were reassigned to areas with less to negligible COVID cases. The rest were part of the front-liners on a mission to save humanity for what was in store. It was traumatizing to say the least, especially when uncertainty is felt in your own heart but you need to show a strong head to keep things afloat.
On the personal front, to my delight, I found out in April 2020 that I was going to give birth to a ‘corona baby’ – at the peak of corona times. This was indeed a miracle baby for me. I had a baggage of thoughts racing in my head; happiness, gratitude, stress, worry, exams, chiefship, COVID. I kept thinking about the challenges coming ahead. The pregnancy itself was quite difficult. I had hyperemesis, there were days I forced myself out of bed to go to work. Imagine wearing full-fledged PPE and the urge to vomit. Trust me, it is a horrible combination. To add to all my pregnancy woes, did I mention I had exams to think about? Oh yes, I did! This was always at the back of my mind. How do I manage to study amidst this?
My program director, Dr. Firas made sure that I work on the minor floor where I would have less chances to see patients with COVID. But what has to happen, does happen. I found out I was COVID positive when I was 6 months pregnant. It started off slow but then hit me like a steaming train out of nowhere. I had breathing difficulty and was hospitalized in an isolation ward with severe pneumonia. I feared my condition like the many patients I treated that took the turn for the worse. Things were getting pretty bad …low oxygen saturation down to 89%, getting hooked onto 15 liters of oxygen 24 hr/day, followed by feeling worse than I already was. I developed ARDS, my lab tests were all deranged. I thought I wouldn’t make it out alive. The doctors kept telling me that my condition would have improved if the baby could be delivered as COVID does nothing to the unborn child but takes a toll on the mother. This wasn’t an option for me. I wanted the baby to grow and be alive even if it meant for myself to die. I was put on all medications/ trials possible at that time.
I have one person to thank who I can never thank enough as words go short, my program director, Dr Firas. This man is an angel for me from heaven, he made sure I received everything. I received Kaletra, high dose steroids, interferon gamma (nebulizer and injections) and donor plasma but most importantly, prayers. To this date, I don’t know what worked. I would like to believe it was the prayers of my family, Dr Firas, my friends and my colleagues. I wouldn’t have survived without them. 20 days in the hospital and I have a different perspective of life now. Life is so precious and here we take ourselves and the people around us for granted. I kept those who were there for me during this phase even closer than before and showed gratitude and humbleness in whatever I did.
Two months post-discharge, I had to relearn how to breathe again. I had some post COVID complications, some of my lung had gone into fibrosis. All this was going on with the third trimester’s shortness of breath, it was a deadly combination. I hardly got hours of sleep daily.
The icing on the cake was when I was told I wouldn’t be able to have a normal delivery as the baby was breech and the cord was stuck around the neck. This really did put a spanner in the plans as my exams were a couple of weeks from my due date. Fast forward my baby arrived a day before I had to get admitted and I had a C section at 38 weeks, I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy and named him Zahraan. After the C section, I struggled with walking, sitting, lying down and even moving. Slight movements would cause pain. I held my baby tight, fed him, insisted on changing his clothes and held my books at the same time. I had a little life to take care of and my exams to study for. Sometimes I cried, thinking how would I make it?
Little did I know that Allah had sent me this child as a blessing for my life and my career. I passed all my Arab board exams within 6 months of having Zahraan. I hope Zahraan sees this one day and feels proud of his mom’s accomplishments.
Just want to conclude this note by saying, no matter how tough life gets, keep your head high, your support system around you and work hard to achieve what you want. But first and foremost, believe in yourself! You are braver than you think, more talented than you know, and capable of more than you imagine!
Dr Asma Akhtar Kiani
A little bit about myself:
I always thought I would thrive in roles where I can make a difference in people’s lives! It seemed quite an appropriate goal with the personality and interests that I had.
And several years later that’s what happened. I embarked on my dream of being a globally acclaimed emergency medicine doctor. I’ve just taken some steps on my long journey of learning and serving humanity and recently became a specialist.
I thrive under pressure and love the rush of knowing that I’m the first point of contact when someone is having a really bad day (I might sob with you as well).