Esther Choo on the Privilege of Helping COVID Patients
In Conversation with Imani Perry on
The Quarantine Tapes
Hosted by Paul Holdengräber, The Quarantine Tapes chronicles shifting paradigms in the age of social distancing. Each day, Paul calls a guest for a brief discussion about how they are experiencing the global pandemic.
Guest host Imani Perry is joined by Esther Choo on Episode 164 of The Quarantine Tapes. As an emergency physician, Esther lends her perspective on this moment, from the early days of the crisis to the inequities in the pandemic response to the distribution of the vaccine. Esther talks with Imani about how she came to medicine and what brought her to working in the ER. She and Imani compare their experiences with social media and online harassment and Esther digs into how she connects to social justice in her work in medicine, speaking thoughtfully to the systemic barriers to equity in her field.
From the episode:
Esther Choo: I have so many patients who when I’m like, okay, you’ve been exposed to coronavirus, you must go on quarantine or isolation—depending on if they got diagnosed or just exposed—for 10 to 14 days. And they’re just like, that’s not a thing. I live in a multifamily household. We all share rooms. Somebody has to work, otherwise I don’t feed my children, and I’m fairly certain they would die first of that than coronavirus. It’s just not a thing. That’s where, again, working in the ER in particular is this constant reminder of what I go home to and just the enormous—I mean, privilege is so overused, but I feel like it’s a privilege to have this job. I’m so grateful.
I’m so grateful that somebody let me into med school 25 years ago, and that led me to get to help. You wanted to get in so badly so that you could be a helper, then you can’t be like, “Ahh, I’m a helper. This sucks!” I mean, you can. You can. It’s been extraordinarily hard time, but there’s a little piece of me inside that is always just fundamentally grateful that I got into med school and then got into residency and then got hired by a bunch of people so that I’m in a position to help.
Imani Perry: I really do like the way that you use the word privilege, because so often it’s used as a proxy for not being involved, as opposed to an opportunity to do meaningful work. Which really is a privilege. Because to do deeply meaningful work, you have to have access to the tools to do so.
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Dr. Esther Choo joined the Department of Emergency Medicine at Oregon Health and Science University in 2016 as full-time faculty. Her research interests include substance use disorders, violence, women’s health, health disparities, gender medicine, digital health, intervention development, and faculty development.
Imani Perry is an intellectual, a professor, and a writer who was born in Birmingham, Alabama at the dawn of the Freedom movement. She lives the life of the mind through literature, criticism, music and art. Perry’s hallmarks are passionate curiosity, rigorous contemplation, and dedication to the collective “we.” Her children, Freeman and Issa Rabb, keep her honest and dreaming.