Dr. Otto J. Marquez
Dr. Otto J. Marquez, an attending emergency room physician, likens the COVID-19 vaccine to wearing a bulletproof vest at work. And, while he knows that nothing is 100% effective in fighting this or any virus, getting the vaccine provided a gift of protection — a shot of hope into his spirit as well as medicine into his arm.
“When I got it at the hospital, there was a long line and it felt like something historic, like the polio vaccine,” Dr. Marquez said. “After the first shot and especially after the second, I was so excited. I was so happy.”
It’s been a long past 12 months for Dr. Marquez and his colleagues. “COVID has definitely influenced our lives,” Dr. Marquez, a 27-year veteran of the ER, said. “I take [the virus] very seriously: Treat everyone like they have COVID until proven otherwise. That’s what you need to do.”
Even without a pandemic, emergency room work is tough. It is alternately unrelenting and rewarding, invigorating and exhausting.
“Some days are really crazy,” he said. “We have to intubate two, three people. We’re running around; the place is packed. I just try to take care of people. We all tend to think of COVID and not of everything else that’s happening.
But people are still having heart attacks; they’re still having strokes.”
Dr. Marquez added: “Manage chaos, that’s what we do. Manage craziness.” In this carefully choreographed chaos, the musical soundtrack is one of questions and answers; of beeps and heart beats; of hurried footsteps and purposeful breaths. Counting on each other has always been the norm, and Dr. Marquez said the pandemic has served to deepen that bond.
“This has brought me closer to my colleagues, absolutely,” he said. “We’re like soldiers going to work every day. It’s us against this virus. The ER is a team effort, a team sport. We’re working together. We all need each other; we could never work without any of them. That’s the most important thing.”
That became especially apparent when a beloved colleague almost died from the virus early in the pandemic. The Dallas Morning News wrote about the roles which almost 100 people, including Dr. Marquez, played in saving Dr. Charles Iliya’s life.
“It was very scary,” Dr. Marquez said. That experience heightened an awareness we all know in our heads, but that the pandemic has brought into heartfelt focus: Any day, at any moment, life can change.
“You could get something at work and be dead in two weeks,” he said. “I’ve never had to deal with that.” Now he does. And while he has always been empathetic when patients pass away, he said, he is even more so now.
“I make a lot more phone calls because the family can’t be in the room,” Dr. Marquez said. “They can’t see their loved ones as they’re dying. They can’t always have funerals.”
He said he’s learned not to be wary and pessimistic but “to enjoy the day, to be positive and be happy. And I am. I have a better perspective about everything.”
He’s always cherished time with his wife, Kim. Now, he does so even more. They live near White Rock Lake, where they enjoy walking together. But they don’t talk about work, which, he said, he has learned to compartmentalize.
He’s always loved going to the gym, but when he returned recently — after almost a year’s absence — people tended to take their masks off while working out.
“I don’t want to be Mr. Grandpa, walking around asking people to cover their faces,” Dr. Marquez said.
And he gets frustrated seeing maskless people in public, but “what can you do?” he said.
Save lives, in his case. Be grateful. Appreciate even more every breath, step, and chance to make a difference.
To stop, he said, “and smell the roses more.”