Opinion: One Year of My Dad Working on the Frontlines


Photo Credits: Samantha C.

As the sound of keys and footsteps approach the door, my dad comes in and lets out a big sigh. Even though he has his mask on, I can see the exhaustion in his eyes. Sometimes he comes home from work with an apple pie from our local bakery or a treat from one of his patients, but today he only has a few envelopes in his hand from our mailbox. He musters up what’s left of his energy to ask how our day was or say hello before he goes straight into his bedroom to disinfect his clothes with Lysol spray.

My dad washing his hands after a long day at work.

When he washes his hands, I can see the cuts on them from hand-washing throughout the day. After he showers, he puts his dinner in the microwave, and while he heats up his food, he goes to the living room to ask what my mom is watching on TV. While he stands in the living room having a conversation with my mom, I can see where his white socks have left imprints on his legs after working a long day, first at the hospital in the morning, then at his own doctor’s office, and finally at a nursing home.

My dad eating dinner after coming home from work.
(Photo Credits: Samantha C.)

In the morning, he usually skips breakfast and makes lunch his first meal. The engine of his car starts, and I hear him back out of the driveway. He begins another day of work filled with hand washing and tending to patients. I won’t see him again until he returns home after dinner time and even then, the moments we share are few and far between.

Over quarantine, I have looked through childhood photos with my family, and it brings me back to the memories with my dad. He taught me how to ride a bike and skated by my side the first time I got on the ice. He was there for my first figure skating competition. On car rides to elementary school, he would ask me words that were going to be on my spelling test. He shared with me Hong Kong culture and always gave me a sip of his Thai Iced tea or Coke at restaurants. Most importantly, he taught me to do what I love with passion and to treat others with kindness as he does for his patients.

From January of 2020, I was already worried about COVID-19, but when we entered quarantine in March, my anxiety started to develop, and it became worse as months passed and my dad continued to work on the frontlines at various hospitals and nursing homes where he is an internist focused on the elderly. 

Should I wash my hands one more time?  That question was ever in the background of my thoughts. I had to help my dad disinfect his phone every night, and I worried about what might happen if I didn’t spray enough. I washed my hands ten times a day until I started to have cuts on my own hands. I avoided touching doorknobs and sprayed Lysol around the house daily. Even the thought of forgetting to sanitize groceries or packages made me nervous. I went on fewer walks around the neighborhood and stayed in my room more often. Only through my window could I see the sun shining on the trees and the squirrels frolicking on our lawn. I questioned if I was capable of doing school work when thoughts of sanitizing every surface consumed me.

Disinfecting my dad’s phone with Isopropyl Alcohol (Photo Credits: Samantha C.)

Time seemed to pass quickly even though some moments felt slow but just like that, it has been almost a year since quarantine started. So many things have changed around the world. In my own home, there are more Lysol cans, boxes of masks, and we run the faucet more often which leaves soap suds in the sink. 

Cleaning supplies that we use around our house.

Many things have changed, but there are some things that remain the same. My dad still has the same genuine Hong Kong laugh that comes out as a short and soft breath and a smile that makes his eyes fill up with warmth. He also still buys egg tarts, fresh pineapple buns, pork floss puns, and sponge cakes from our local Chinese bakery. He still says the same dad jokes that get me and my sister laughing. My mom tells me that I have started to look more like my dad and I can see that. 

In December 2020, the first round of vaccines was being given to frontline workers. My dad was approved to take the vaccine. Instead of elation, I was unsure at first. I worried that my dad might have bad side effects such as having a fever or worse. 

When the day came for his vaccination, he texted me after: “Just got the Covid vaccine.” He told me that he only had a sore arm as a symptom. He then took the second dose after a few weeks.  This time the symptoms were worse. He felt like he had been hit by a truck because of how his muscle aches so badly. He didn’t want to get out of bed the next morning, but he did. The sound of the bathroom door opens and I hear him let out a tired yawn. He then changes into his work clothes, puts on his watch, and heads out the door.

The text my dad sent me when he got the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.