The author with her four siblings and their significant others at her sister's wedding rehearsal dinner in July 2019. (Courtesy photo)
The author with her four siblings and their significant others at her sister’s wedding rehearsal dinner in July 2019. (Courtesy photo)

There’s an ongoing joke that I’m the “black sheep” in my family. I’m the creative in a sea full of science minds.

I make a living as a freelance writer and piano teacher in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., but I was born and raised in Pittsburgh and return frequently to visit my family.

My parents are both internists affiliated with a local hospital. My sister is a nurse at the same hospital, working on her nurse practitioner degree, and my brother is an emergency medicine doctor there. My other sister is an internal medicine resident at another local hospital; she will become chief resident there soon. My third sister is a local veterinarian.

When news of the coronavirus first emerged, I listened cautiously. I knew my family would be working on the front lines, and I was worried about my boyfriend and me living in a bigger city like Washington, D.C. My worst fears are coming true. I am so incredibly frightened by the uncertainty of this pandemic. I had an intense panic attack about it earlier this month that made me physically ill for the whole day.

My parents are 64 and 65. They are right at the beginning of the age window for those most at risk for COVID-19. I was so scared for them as I knew they did not have access to the safer N95 masks. Thank goodness, they have now transferred to telehealth sessions in the safety of their home. However, my mom still goes to Giant Eagle for groceries, which makes my heart skip a beat every time I hear she is there. Not to mention, they both could retire but choose to continue working for the love of medicine and helping people. I know that sometimes puts unnecessary stress on them.

My youngest sister, the nurse, is just 25. She has seen so much death and destruction even before this pandemic. I don’t want her to become cynical or frustrated. The same goes for my brother. He is the only boy out of the five of us siblings and is naturally brave. (He would have to be growing up with four sisters.) He is currently commuting more than an hour from his new home in Mercer County to Pittsburgh to finish his residency. I admire his drive and passion for his job because it seems absolutely grueling.

The author with her four siblings and their significant others. (Courtesy photo)
The author with her four siblings and their significant others. (Courtesy photo)

Thankfully, my veterinarian sister just had a baby so she is not working for a few months. I know COVID-19 will still be around in the when she returns though, and much is still being investigated about human transmission of coronavirus to pets.  It’s scary to think about her going into work and dealing with not only pets, but also the general public, and then going home to my infant nephew.

We were all raised Catholic and come from a fairly religious family. Throughout all of this upheaval, I’ve been trying to remember the power of prayer and how much better I feel after spending some time with God. Whenever I feel bouts of anxiety come on about my family, I turn to prayer. We all have been praying a lot more for the safety of our family and everyone affected in this unprecedented time.

My brother recently sent a message in our family group text regarding their jobs and the new coronavirus. “It’s what we signed up for.”

In my eyes, I see it as them signing up for fear and frustration. My family members see it as determination and devotion. They are true heroes in my mind.

Despite the state of the country, and the world for that matter, they are consistently showing up to work with a sense of resolve in their mind. This is what they’ve studied for, what they’ve prepared for their entire careers. They are willing to risk their lives for all of us, many who are complete strangers to them. It makes me proud to be my parents’ daughter and my siblings’ older sister. I come from a family of heroes.

Kate Oczypok lives in Rockville, Md. but was born and raised in Pittsburgh. She is proud to call the city her hometown. If you want to send a message to Kate, email

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