His wife, Hibist Legesse, told him about their baby’s kicks like crazy. He wishes he could reach and feel it too.
But Legesse is sitting across the room on a sofa more than 3 meters away. And for weeks, it’s as close to each other as they could get
Within hours last month, they returned from the joy of a beach vacation to an overwhelming reality.
The city they call home has become a hotspot in an endless pandemic in sight, and very differently, the two are on the front line.
He is an emergency doctor to save lives. She owns a restaurant that struggles to keep her business afloat. And soon they will be parents for the first time.
He fights to save the lives of patients
A disturbing refrain continues through the hospital speakers.
Code 99… Code 99… Code 99
For Gore, it’s a reminder of the danger lurking at the SUNY Downstate Medical Center, where intensive care units have been packed with more people on ventilators than he has ever seen.
In hospital parlance, “Code 99” means cardiac arrest. These days, Gore says it likely means someone is dead because Covid-19 killed them.
Gore moves forward, compartmentalizes his fears and remains focused on his patients. When he is in the emergency room, he knows that any distraction could be the difference between life and death.
New York had just confirmed its first case of coronavirus when Gore and his wife went to the Bahamas for a beach vacation in early March. When they returned, their city was becoming the epicenter of a rapidly evolving epidemic.
The virus was no longer a threat in a distant place. It was personal.
Gore grew up in Fort Greene and Flatbush. His elementary school is just down the street from the hospital where he works. And it seems like every day he receives a text message from a friend asking for help
Can you check my father?
Can you check my mom?
My aunt is here.
My neighbor is there.
We just want someone we know to control.
Some of Gore’s friends and colleagues also fell ill. The 43-year-old doctor saw patients his age and younger. And the very disparities in health that prompted him to become a doctor initially become national news.
Gore was named a CNN hero in 2018 for his work with the Kings Against Violence Initiative, a non-profit organization he founded in 2009 to help students at risk. He told CNN that he had been frustrated by the number of young men of color whom he had seen injured and killed by street violence, and that he wanted to break the cycle.
Now, Gore says that health disparities are played out in another devastating way, as marginalized communities are disproportionately affected by the new coronavirus.
“You can take any disease process on the planet, and if you put it in a poor, underdeveloped and unsupported area, it will manifest and it will devastate this whole community,” he said. , “And that’s what we’re seeing here in the United States right now. “
The catastrophe he sees in his own country now weighs heavily on him every time he goes to the hospital. And he does everything he can to help.
But it’s not the only battle he has to fight.
They are looking for answers together
As Gore saw more coronavirus cases in the emergency room, anxiety about how the disease might affect his family was mounting at home.
It didn’t take long for Gore and Legesse to find a solution: he would move into an Airbnb. It was a difficult decision, but they took it in stride. It would not be far, only 10 minutes by car from home. They knew they were lucky to have the opportunity. And at the time, it seemed like such a temporary thing.
Then a week became two, and two weeks became three, and three weeks became four, and four weeks became who-knows-how much.
He lived in a few Airbnb locations, then went on to rent an apartment over the days.
Through it all, questions continue to arise in Gore’s mind.
Will i get sick?
Is this happening to me?
When can I find my family?
When will it end?
Legesse toasted her husband with his own questions.
When he returned to the emergency room after their vacation, she was terrified that he would get sick. She asked if he was doing enough to protect himself.
During a Facetime call, he showed him all the protective gear he had.
Two masks, a face shield, glasses, coveralls, boots and a cap covering his head.
Seeing him helped, even from afar. Legesse says he is proud of the way he serves the community and is now less worried about whether he will get sick.
Lately, she has been thinking about everything she missed during their separation.
They postponed their plan to create a nursery. They exchange baby name ideas in text messages. He is not at home to feel the kicks or to see how his body changes every day.
Their little boy is due to arrive in July. She hopes that by then they will all be together.
She’s fighting to keep her restaurant afloat
At first, they were both so busy that they barely noticed the tension of the separation.
Legesse’s days have been crazy since his Fort Greene neighborhood restaurant in Brooklyn, Bati Ethiopian Kitchen, was forced to close his dining room and fire most of his staff.
Legesse, a co-owner, struggles to help employees whom she has known for years file an unemployment claim. And she spent days applying for numerous state and federal grants and loans.
But so far, she hasn’t heard of any of them. The wait is agonizing. And the fact that big companies got loans that should have gone to small companies left her lost and frustrated.
The 12 tables of the normally packed restaurant are empty. Only one full-time employee remains: a cook who always serves take-out and delivery orders.
But Legesse says the money the restaurant is making right now is not enough. Without the support of financial aid programs, she says that at the end of the month, she won’t have enough left to pay the rent.
“We are completely blocked, without answers, without help. From the beginning, the government said: “Small businesses will not be left behind. They are the backbone of the economy, “she said. “This positive feeling you have is turning into fear now. As the days turn into weeks and months, you don’t know if you’re going to reopen. You don’t know what life will be like for your business. ”
It is not the first time that the restaurant has struggled. Legesse remembers its opening days in 2009 during the Great Recession. It was a cold week in January, and things continued to go wrong. The heating system broke down and for a moment, she feared that the restaurant she had dreamed of opening would close. Then she looked at the dining room and saw that people were still tasting her family’s recipes – bundled up in coats and scarves while they ate.
More than a decade later, she hopes that the lessons she learned during the restaurant’s opening days will help her overcome this new crisis.
“When you do something during such a difficult time, you are not going to die. You will come out strong. You will understand it. You are going to solve problems, “she says. “The recession showed us – we were really worried that people wouldn’t want to come and spend money, but they did, and it was busy from the start. “
Legesse grew up in the Ethiopian capital and immigrated to New York as a high school student. The name of his restaurant has two meanings: Bati is an Ethiopian city known for its dynamic market; it’s also a kind of musical scale. She hoped the restaurant would embody two things: bringing people together and creating the rhythm of the community.
And for Legesse, it is. It is a business that she has lived, breathed and loved for years. And she is determined to save him.
The restaurant has brought its employees and customers who she says are like family. And unexpectedly, it also brought him a husband.
Bati is the place where she and Gore first met.
He dined there frequently. And what started out as a simple hello after a friend introduced them one day has turned into a story that none of them expected.
They fight to keep their baby safe
These days, being separated becomes more difficult, even if Gore and Legesse know that they are fortunate enough to be able to visit from time to time.
It’s been over four weeks since their last hug. His recordings from the front porch became less frequent as work in the emergency room intensified. When they meet, it’s something to savor.
So this Friday night, when Gore picks up a package, that’s exactly what he’s trying to do. He’s in the doorway. She is sitting on the sofa. And he drinks it.
He likes to see it and hear how focused it is on the laser to make sure the restaurant can stay open. Some people would collapse under stress, but she just organized.
Usually, that’s when he’ll take out his phone and take a quick picture of Legesse from across the room.
He wants to remember these moments and how his belly is growing. It looks like she looks different every time he sees her, even if only a few days have passed.
But that day, something different happens when Gore stands there, the front door wide open behind him.
Legesse has been hearing the spooky sound for weeks.
Applause and applause burst out in the district.
It was 7:00 p.m. when New Yorkers leaned out of the windows and climbed fire escape stairs to show support for health care workers.
Gore has never been at home before hearing him.
Legesse gets up from the sofa.
And she begins to applaud.
She has tears in her eyes. She thinks that her husband too, although it is difficult to see his face very clearly behind the mask.
After a few minutes, the noise will go out. There they are, a room apart – overwhelmed by the emotion of the moment.
They do not yet know the name of their baby.
They do not know what the world in which he was born will look like.
They don’t know if he will be able to go to daycare – if there will even be be nursery.
They do not know when they will return to live under the same roof.
But they know it: they’re together right now – and every day – even when they’re 10 feet or 10 minutes’ drive from each other. And their community is also with them.
This is the story they will one day tell their son – the story of standing together.