Perinatology Research Branch of NICHD Wayne State University

Dr. Stanley M. Berry, 66, is a high-risk obstetrician at Wayne State University, volunteering to join critical care in Detroit

I was planning to retire and finish my novel in the next year or two. I’m essentially an obstetrician who specializes in high-risk pregnancy. I only work three days a week right now, and one of those days is for research and mentoring.

But Michigan needed to “repurpose” some physicians who were willing to volunteer to treat COVID-19 patients. I submitted my name. I haven’t been assigned yet, but if they tell me they need people in the emergency room, that’s where I’ll go. I still know how to listen to lungs and take a medical history and do a physical, so I can contribute there. I don’t know how this is going to play out, because I’m almost 67.

A number of my friends have called to try to discourage me from volunteering, because of my age. One of my buds was really harsh. My rejoinder was, ‘What if your wife had to go to the hospital? You’d want someone to take care of her. Somebody has to do it.’ There were some tears shed by my fiancée, but she expressed an understanding of where I’m coming from. One might say there’s an element of selfishness in all this, because I do have three children, one of whom is severely disabled; I have a former wife who is a saint; I have a granddaughter who lives with my ex and we’re expecting another granddaughter. So I have family ties.

I never imagined a time like this, and I didn’t take this decision lightly. One physician friend of mine just got over her fever of four days, yesterday. One of my former residents is intubated because of coronavirus. And one of the anesthesiologists in the hospital is now transferred to the University of Michigan on ECMO. It’s on my mind, but I try not to think about it.

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This could be the last thing I do on earth, but I felt very strongly about it. I go back to an interview I heard with an army officer who survived the Battle of Mogadishu in the 1990s. He said one of his men came to him and this guy said, ‘I’m afraid.’ He said back, ‘It’s not a matter of whether you have fear or not; it’s what you do with it.’ I do have fear.

But the bravest people that I knew of in my lifetime—Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.—all knew they were going to die. They went ahead and did it anyway. I don’t want to die, and I’m not in this to be a hero, but medicine’s been good to me and the city of Detroit’s been good to me, and we’re being clobbered right now. My will is made, so I’m just going to try to follow all the guidelines for wearing personal protective equipment and help. —As told to Jamie Ducharme

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