Ob/Gyn Dispatches During COVID-19: Jean-Ju Sheen, MD

April 20, 2020

Each day during the COVID-19 crisis, we'll share an update from a member of our team in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. Today's note is from Jean-Ju Sheen, MD, Medical Director of Labor and Delivery at NYP/CUIMC.

Jean-Ju Sheen, MD
Jean-Ju Sheen, MD

My 13-year old son has not had a haircut in weeks. A few nights ago, he looked in the mirror and remarked: "My hair looks so scraggly! I look like Harry Potter when he lived with the Dursleys!"

I have joked that he looks taller now because of his hair. But truly, he has grown in the last few weeks, both in inches and in maturity. It startles me every time I see him, particularly since I see him less, as I try to increase my social distancing from my family. The other day I reminded him of something he had to do later, jokingly commenting that he should know I tend to micromanage him. Later, he knocked on the door of my “isolation room” and reminded me that it was time to micromanage him. I think it was his teen-aged way of saying he misses me. 

Our families and patients miss us, and we miss them. I miss the soccer practices and games, the school plays and concerts, piling a bunch of kids in the car for a spontaneous meal or for ice cream. I miss taking care of patients and being able to see their faces light up when we hand them their new baby, or letting them see our smiles. It is a new thing, to try and express all of my emotions through my eyes, the only part of me my patients can see. I miss being busy for fun things, trying to juggle normal work and patient care with time for family and friends. Like many of my colleagues, I pride myself on my ability to multitask, but now all the focus is on one goal—to beat this thing. Nowadays, it is so strange to drive back and forth from work in increasingly beautiful weather while feeling uncertain when this pandemic will subside. It is so true we just do not know when the last time we do something will be the last time forever. What will life be like when this is over? I am reminded constantly that we still must seize the day and look for the glimmers of hope and inspiration. Life is still happening, babies are still being born, and someday this will be a memory too.

There are not enough words to express how proud I am of my village. My work family has just been taking it on, as has my family at home.  Like stalwart soldiers, they are making impossible things possible, adjusting in ways we have never had to before, even in the midst of fear. One of my dear colleagues recently remarked—“There’s nothing like a pandemic to get things done”—and no truer words have been said. I have always felt that one of the best aspects of my work is being a member of a team. During this difficult time, the teamwork has been unparalleled, and the sense of trying to keep each other safe while moving forward to conquer these challenges is palpable, if unspoken. I am grateful for the good things—all the members of our multi-talented staff reaching out of their comfort zones to help each other, my friends who have gotten sick being on the mend, critically-ill patients pulling through and going home to their families. I have heard from so many old friends and colleagues, some of whom I have not spoken to in years, sending well-wishes and thinking of us.

I end with some words from the illustrious Albus Dumbledore, of Harry Potter fame: “We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided…. Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” Please be safe everyone, and continue to check in on each other. We need this to be over, but until then, we battle on together!

Jean-Ju Sheen, MD