A day in the life of 'the people’s doctor’: Serving communities at the pandemic’s epicenter, New York City

Emergency physician Arabia Mollette works 12-hour shifts in the East New York-Brownsville section of Brooklyn, N.Y., attending to COVID-19 patients. Her story is similar in many ways to hundreds of doctors all over the city, but her motivation is especially personal. She's lost family and loved ones to the virus, and, despite bouts of anxiety and insomnia, she pushes on each day to serve the community.

Video Transcript


ARABIA MOLLETTE: I am Dr. Arabia Mollette. I'm an emergency-medicine physician, or in layman's terms, an ER doctor in Brooklyn, New York.

When I wake up in the morning, I'm already struggling with my anxiety because I'm like, what is this day going to look like? Is this day going to be like yesterday or the day before? And so I have to really rely on prayer just at least to help me calm my anxiety and to be able to stay focused.

And so I usually get to the hospital around 6:45 in the morning. I take about 10 to 15 minutes for myself to pray and meditate and basically ask God to help me to do my best to take care of the patients along with my team because it's not just me that's taking care of patients. It's a whole entire team that I work with.

Then I start my shift, and it's busy. Some patients unfortunately perish to this disease. And we cry. We get frustrated. We take five-minute breaks. We talk about what happened as much as possible because it's traumatizing for many of us.

We've lost several coworkers. I lost a neighbor. I almost lost my cousin. And we also lost a family friend. And so it's been-- on a personal and professional level, it's been-- it's been very difficult. And I know that has a lot to do with why my anxiety-- that it provoked because every day I think to myself, well, am I next?

The virus at hand does not discriminate-- your age, your health status, your socioeconomic status, your ethnicity or race or gender.

One thing that we have a problem with, especially within our culture, we're very impatient. We put dates on things, meaning that reopening the economy should not be based on dates. It should be based on data. That's first and foremost, public health over profits. We cannot run a country or reopen an economy if everyone is becoming sick and dying from this disease. It makes no sense to sacrifice the lives of millions of Americans because people want to rush reopening the economy.

Several patients have said to me, like, Doc, you're like the people's doc. And I'm like, OK. I have my days as well, just like anyone else. I'm human. I cry. I get frustrated. I argue. I fight back.

And so I personally believe in public health. I believe in preventative care, even though I am an emergency-medicine physician. I believe in us to win against this pandemic.

At the same time, I am concerned. I am afraid. I do not want to die from this disease.

The communities overall has been extremely, extremely supportive and helpful with not coming to the emergency department for nonurgent matters as well. Also, I know for a fact that several community members, I see them once I leave from the shift, and they just happened to see me walk past their building. And they will scream out, hey, Doc. I'm monitoring my symptoms. I'm staying inside. And so that's also helpful.

And just overall, the community has been very supportive, and I really do appreciate that because without them, there would be-- there wouldn't be us. And so it takes a community effort. It should take a nation effort for us to combat this epidemic.

But we shall see what this summer's going to be like, and there is a great possibility there will be a second resurgence of the coronavirus.

And I say this again, and I'll always repeat this over and over again because it did take a lot of time, a lot of frustration and effort to repeat to people to stay the F home.