An enduring lesson of the pandemic has been how falsehoods can spread faster than viruses. When COVID-19 began rapidly spreading across the U.S., medical professionals worried that, since so little was yet known or understood, conflicting information would confuse the public and make people more vulnerable to contracting it. It’s also meant that doctors and nurses have had to spend precious time dispelling myths as their ERs filled with patients. “I am a good doctor but not a good moderator of misinformation,” says Family Medicine Physician MaryAnn Dakkak ’04. Dakkak has been treating COVID-19 patients from the Emergency Department at Boston Medical Center (BMC), a 514-bed teaching hospital and Level I trauma center.
Located at the nexus of the city’s most underserved neighborhoods, BMC saw the region’s earliest cases as the country struggled to understand, let alone contain, the virus. And, like so many hospitals at the pandemic’s peak, staff had no choice but to reuse masks and face shields. But in hard-hit Boston, the toll COVID-19 has taken on patients has been “overwhelming for the doctors, nurses, lab technicians—for everyone at the hospital,” she says. Roughly a quarter of BMC’s staff would also fall ill.
Thankfully, Dakkak has remained COVID-19 negative. But, like many of her colleagues, she’s physically and emotionally tired from the intensity. At the end of a shift, changing out of her scrubs, taking a hot shower, and climbing into bed feels like vacation, and she’s deeply appreciative of the meals neighbors thoughtfully leave on her porch after a shift.
As Boston begins its slow reopening, she hopes the hard won wisdom of the pandemic isn’t lost. Trained in both family medicine and public health, the former SCU Biology major understands the dynamics that lead to poor health. “Our communities of color already bear the brunt of chronic illness and economic disparity,” she says, “and now they bear the brunt of COVID-19,” her voice tinged with frustration. Dakkak—whose political consciousness began to take root in college—has worked with refugee populations in Africa and Haiti and understands how socio-and geopolitical factors can influence health. “I felt supported in doing a lot of activism and advocacy work at Santa Clara," she explained. "And that consciousness informs my work with patients to this day.”
Dakkak didn’t see her children for three months—to keep them safe, she sent them to her parents’ place in California. She urges everyone to remain cautious, stay informed, and to follow social distancing guidelines. But she also gets how hard this has been. Pausing to reflect on her own Middle Eastern and Mediterranean roots she says, “If you don't eat three plates full at my mom's table, she thinks you don't like her, so I get it. Sharing food is showing love…but be careful anyway.”