Amid the threat of COVID-19, a venture to a hospital is an arduous task.
At the beginning of the semester, I was put on a three-month waiting list to schedule an important doctor’s visit to treat a rare condition. If the appointment had been for any other reason I would have canceled, but I had not been to this particular doctor since the beginning of my college career, and it was imperative I did. So, despite the threat of the coronavirus, I went.
The drive to Parkland Memorial Hospital, one of the largest medical centers in the state of Texas, was an eerie one. I had not had a reason to leave the house for weeks and should have expected the empty streets and parking lots. Still, the lack of people surprised me. I never could have imagined such an empty version of Dallas.
Driving up to the UT Southwestern wing of the hospital, the once bustling, Grey’s Anatomy-esque environment I remember was gone. The overpriced parking meter, which typically ate at least $10, was open for free to the few cars parked in its lot.
Due to the lack of traffic, my parents and I arrived early to the appointment. This time, we did not have to spar with other visitors for parking; the lot was almost completely empty. Sparse cars parked far away from each other to avoid contact.
“Do you have your masks ready?” my mom asked my dad and me. We knew this hospital had patients with the virus, so we scrounged the house the night before for bandanas or masks to use in case hospital officials asked us to wear one. Eventually, we found painting masks in the depths of a storage closet. They would have to do.
As soon as we exited the car, we immediately saw a health care worker. He wore a mask, a theme I continued to see for the rest of my visit. We seemed to walk at the same pace and awkwardly arrived at the door around the same time. He looked concerned, taking steps back and allowed us to enter the hospital first. He waited at least 30 seconds to follow behind us.
Entering the hospital, were met by a barrier of healthcare workers with a series of questions. Once they established my parents and I all came together, the workers explained someone would have to wait in the car. Only one visitor per guest could go upstairs.
After my dad volunteered to wait outside, they continued to ask if he had traveled recently and whether we had experienced coughing or fever. Once we confidently answered no, the masked workers gave us orange wristbands to prove we were safe.
I did not see many people in the lobby. The people there stood next to a hand sanitizing station. The gift shop was not open for business. Every food vendor was closed. We pressed the elevator buttons with our elbows.
Walking toward the clinic, we were the only two present in the waiting room. The army of nurses sat behind their computers, behind rows of chairs blocking patients from the health care workers. The barrier of chairs forced me to stand six feet away from the counter. I read my insurance number aloud and reached over the barrier to fill out my health care information.
After my visit, the medical team saluted me rather than shaking my hand. Zero contact under any circumstance was appropriate.
I wish every person who denies the gravity of this situation could go to a major hospital and feel the somber mood permeating the air. Every health care worker took the virus seriously, so should the rest of America.