The New Colossus’: One ER Doctor’s Coronavirus Story

I am at the house of God. But the angels are holding their breath.’

Satchit Balsari
4 min readMar 22, 2020


Photo: PhotoAlto/Odilon Dimier/Getty Images

The days have been long.

We have forgotten our avowed aversion to screen time. We have all learned to use Zoom. The irises are peeking out again. They mustn’t have heard. We anxiously scan the news — has exponential growth begun? Did I just touch my face? What will we run out of today? When I reuse my mask, are they still not plastered on the outside?

Market Basket, my local grocer, announced special hours for the elderly. How civilized. Like in Australia. My friends in California cannot leave home. Capone, in Union Square, posted a sign on its door. I stood on the street and called them on my phone. They came out with my bottle of olive oil and frozen pasta. I chuckled nervously. Did they clean the groove of the card reader? The New England Journal of Medicine said it lived on plastic for two days. Is there a smart way to hold my Visa then? The barista at Forge handed me an extra bag of beans from the window. Was it because I was braving the front lines? Or was the roast date long gone?

I don’t feel brave. I feel quite mad. How did it get to this? My boat came from far away. Well, it actually had wings, but you get the point. September 11 was the first day of school. Yes, 2001. The first day of my American dream. America fell apart. And then dismantled the world.

We will have no masks, no gowns, no test kits, no iron lungs. My friend has been in bed, breathing heavily, for the past 10 days now. Someone knew someone who went to a meeting at Biogen.

Now we look back and wonder if those were gentler times. Then, we didn’t put children in cages. We hated from afar. We tried to put everything back together. Were those the golden days? Hope did not have a hashtag then. And everything seemed to crumple again. Like the irises. Gone every year.

I can’t go back to where my boat came from, where it is day even when it is night here. The boats are not allowed to fly anymore. So I WhatsApp everyone. Some like to Telegram. I do not have an Insta account. #SoOld. I deleted my Facebook account and immediately regretted it. I video chat with Ma and Dad now. I did not when the irises were still in hiding. But now I want to see everyone. Behold all faces. One more time. I must appear brave.

II am at the house of God. But the angels are holding their breath. America ran out of Q-tips. The number 3.5 trillion has 11 zeros. Hospital lobbies can be very expensive. The one on the East River has a lot of beautiful marble. We will have no masks, no gowns, no test kits, no iron lungs. My friend has been in bed, breathing heavily, for the past 10 days now. Someone knew someone who went to a meeting at Biogen. The results take five days. Sometimes six. Even seven. What did we do with the 11 zeros? The suits at the hospital with the beautiful marble stopped yelling about the coffee cups. They didn’t have to. The doctors were too scared to put them down now. It could be anywhere.

Has a cough ever turned so many heads? Now there is no alcohol. No soap. Star Market said only two rolls per customer. Uber said no ride shares. How will she get to work today? Does it matter? The gigs are gone. The 11 zeros didn’t pay for my neighbor’s health insurance. He didn’t get the memo. Drudgery buys health insurance. Everyone must sacrifice. Leo expanded the call schedule for when we start falling. He beckoned us. We all marched up one by one. I did too. Hippocrates said we must. The socialist is still hoarse, trying to get everyone to the doctor. Don’t come. We have run out of everything. Telemedicine is all the rage.

The world seemed better when ER overcrowding was the national emergency. Grandpa lives in a funeral home now. How will he be nursed? The children peer in through the pane. Makes for great television. They won’t let him go. The dorms on the Charles are empty. Larry likes to run by them. He wrote about it. And then he got it too. And the hotels are haunted. #AmericanCarnage. When will it peak? What is the R0?

Jack Ma sent us half a million kits. Will he make us great again? What will be left behind? The Dow dried up. There is no trickle. There never was any. But I can’t send Joyce back to the streets. She has nowhere to go. She never had. But today she has something I still don’t. So she gets a bed for the night. Ten nights in fact, until she is twice negative, 24 hours apart. Right next to the guy from the Valley. Was it the door handle on the Tesla? They were cohorted. HIPAA is suspended. And who is that? Oh, physician, did you not heal thyself?

But we have no Q-tips. Now no one can leave. We got the wall we were promised. And behind it, our huddled masses, yearning to breathe free.



Satchit Balsari

ER doc | Public health practitioner | HMS | HSPH