Is This the Face of a Hero? Life as an ER Doctor in the Time of COVID - OC87 Recovery Diaries

Is This the Face of a Hero? Life as an ER Doctor in the Time of COVID


Like many of us, Dr. Erica Harris’ world dramatically changed with the onset of COVID-19.

Dr. Harris is an emergency physician at Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia. To date, Einstein Medical Center has treated more than 3,500 COVID patients. “We were hit particularly hard at Einstein by the COVID pandemic,” says Dr. Harris. “A lot of the patients that we saw there were hit hard because of how many people live in close proximity to each other. It’s a very densely populated area. There’s a lot of elderly people in the area. We serve a lot of nursing homes in that area, so we saw among the highest rates in the city of Philadelphia of COVID patients at our hospital.”

For her own safety and for that of her patients, Dr. Harris wears layers of PPE (personal protective equipment) every time she reports to work.  Dressing up wasn’t always an easy task.

“When I first started this process when COVID was beginning, I felt a lot of fear. I felt a lot of insecurity about it. I felt a lot of everything has to be done just right, or I could get very sick and I could die.”

Yet Dr. Harris, and many, many other front line health care workers, did the job that she was trained for, that she was called for. And the world took notice.

From early on, frontline health workers were called heroes by thankful citizens around the world. While grateful for the appreciation, Dr. Erica Harris didn’t feel much like a hero. She was nervous, scared, tired and felt very small. In fact, one day when she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror all suited up in her PPE, she thought she looked more like a coal miner than a physician. Her grandfather, Don Adams was a gold and silver miner in northern Idaho. To Erica and her family, her grandfather was a true hero, because of his lifetime efforts to fight for miner’s rights and his work advocating for miners’ protections.

“Driving past signs that said, “Heroes work here,” and hearing grateful praise from my neighbors and other people about being a hero—I appreciated it, and I loved it, and I took it in, and there was never a part of me that rejected it. There was a part of me that thought I didn’t deserve it certainly. I was thinking a lot about my grandfather, more and more and more every day.”

“I was trying to reconcile what it meant to be a hero in this modern pandemic with what it meant in my mind for him to actually have been a hero, and trying to find some strength in that shared idea of being a hero.”

At the height of the COVID pandemic, Dr. Harris was moved to write an essay about her unique experience. “Dressing Up” was published in the Journals of the American Medical Association.

We are so fortunate that Dr. Harris agreed to collaborate on this video essay, in which she juggles the multiple roles demanded of her—wife, mother, physician, daughter, granddaughter and, quite possibly, hero.

EDITOR IN CHIEF: Gabriel Nathan | EDITOR: Glenn Holsten | DESIGN: Leah Alexandra Goldstein | PUBLISHER: Bud Clayman

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Glenn is an award-winning director who loves to create compelling documentary story experiences of all lengths for screens of all sizes. He is an avid reader, studied literature in college, and his passion for stories with strong characters and interesting narratives stems from those years. His career as a visual storyteller began at WHYY (the public television station in Philadelphia) where he worked for 15 years before becoming an independent filmmaker. In addition to his PBS documentaries about arts and culture, he has directed films about justice and human rights, and now, mental health. He was emboldened to undertake his current documentary project, Hollywood Beauty Salon, a colorful feature-length documentary about surviving mental illness and finding the courage for recovery, after his transformative experience directing OC87: The Obsessive Compulsive, Major Depression, Bipolar, Asperger’s Movie, along with Bud Clayman and Scott Johnston.