Work in Progress

Essential: A Chinese Doctor on Rural America’s Pandemic Frontline

Essential is a book that chronicles the pandemic through the eyes of a young full-scope family doctor, an immigrant who serves the migrant worker community, and a Chinese daughter who had to find her way back to her cultural roots.

Four months out of training, when America’s first hot spot erupted only three hours from her rural farming community, Zed was reassigned from her growing clinical practice to lead her community health clinic’s response to COVID-19.

At work, she was responsible for making COVID-19 protocols to protect her colleagues and community, while helping her marginalized patients survive an unprecedented global disaster with limited resources. The true patient stories told in Essential reveal a hidden side of the pandemic America has not seen yet: the scare of managing ventilators as a country doctor when ICUs filled up, delivering babies to COVID-positive mothers who had to separate from their newborns, being the only one at the bedside of a dying woman, treating a young man with COVID-19 and TB who spoke a rare Mexican dialect, and encountering the mysterious illness we now call Long COVID Syndrome for the first time.

At home, Zed’s parents were stranded in the United States for over a year because their flights home kept getting canceled. After spending the last 12 years conducting their relationship with an ocean between them, now all Zed and her parents had was a door. Zed discovered that despite a decade of trying to become who she thought her parents wanted her to be, they could not understand who she was. Her cultural identity started to disintegrate, as did their relationship. In the height of anti-Asian hate in America, love needed to triumph.

Essential invites readers to join Zed in the front row of a poignant and sometimes humorous chronicle of the pandemic through personal and patient stories, in which Zed had to reconcile her identities as a Chinese woman, an immigrant, a daughter, and a physician. 

Visit Dr. Zed Zha’s website here.