It was one of the hardest calls I had to make…

My name is Ara. I am a physician at Penn, and I work in Otolaryngology.

About ten days ago, after finishing about six hours of surgery with my nurses and my chief resident, I was notified that I had been exposed to a colleague who had tested positive for Covid-19. I was considered in the high-risk group to potentially get infected. I needed to immediately proceed into quarantine status. I changed, I packed up what little I bring into the hospital, and I walked out of the hospital on to the front circle. And I looked at the street in a very different way than I normally do.

So I am getting ready to call my wife and tell her what I have just heard, and I don't want to make this call. My wife is pregnant, she is three weeks away from delivering. Quite honestly I am afraid she might be infected, or the baby, or the child we have. And then on top of that, I don't want to miss the delivery. So it was one of the hardest calls I had to make.

I had settled in my head that I was going to the hotel. My phone was dying, and in some ways I felt like I was all alone. I think I really was. There was a list of little things I had to solve. They were all made more complicated by the fact that I wasn't going to get to go home and give little Ara a hug and my wife a kiss.

I remember I was crossing the Walnut Street Bridge feeling really lonely. It felt really long and slow. I thought I would feel better if I planned, so I planned a little what I would maybe do when I got to the hotel, and how I would spend my days. It didn't really feel like I was in charge of much of anything at that moment, besides staying away from everybody.

I walked out of the hotel to pick up my bag from my wife, and you could tell she wanted to hug me. And I go, “You can’t hug me.” And she goes, “I hugged you this morning.” And I go, “Yeah, but now it’s different.” She goes, “It’s not really different.” And I go, “It feels different. I feel like I can’t hug you because I don’t know what's going to happen next. So trust me, and don't hug me.”

It was a long nine days. But fortunately, I didn’t get sick. I felt good when I had my routine. I felt good when I was able to do a virtual clinic, and when I made my bed, and folded my clothes, and when I got to see my family over the FaceTime, and watch videos of my life at home unfolding without me. Because it was the next best thing to being there.

As I envisioned going back into the society that I just left, the hardest thing for me to imagine was how to package my two biggest fears. Can I keep my family safe, can I be healthy for them? And then the fear that I would be unable to help others. This incredible urge to be present at the hospital, helping take care of people that are in need, but also being there as a colleague who supports other colleagues in what we do.

Almost everybody has the chance of getting sick. I realized that I'm one of hundreds already, and these conversations, these inner fugues are something that almost everybody is going to feel. You have to put it on the table that you're willing to go back and do what you love, that you care about, that you're committed to. For me, I realized that all of those two or three circles — you, your family, your job, your commitment — they all belong together, especially now. They really belong together.


The Penn Medicine Listening Lab is a storytelling initiative that embraces the power of listening as a form of care. While the stories featured here aspire to uplift and empower, they may also describe experiences of trauma and suffering. We recognize that listening can be a vulnerable experience and offer resources at Penn Medicine and beyond through our website for those in need of support.

Tags: Empowering Communities