PHOENIX -- There are certain drives from the hospital to her home that have stuck with Antonique Peterson.
They happened on days she was waiting to hear about her patients who took COVID-19 tests. Stuck in a world of unknown, behind the wheel, her mind would race.
Should she sleep in the guest house?
Should she see her kids, her husband, her mother?
Should she just stay away?
How long could it last?
Those days have happened enough over the past three months for Peterson, the wife of Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson. Antonique Peterson is in her second year of a family medicine residency at St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix and is experiencing the emotional roller coaster of working on the front lines in the battle against the coronavirus and COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.
"I was nervous knowing that I had to come home to, at that point in time, it was a 3-month-old, a 4-year-old, my husband and then my mom is here with us, too," Peterson said. "But, at the same time, just training. I want to learn, I want to experience, get all the exposure that I can to all kinds of medicines."
The past few months have been "emotionally draining," said Patrick, an eight-time Pro Bowl and three-time All-Pro cornerback. "I tell my wife all the time, she's one of the strongest women that I've ever seen."
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Heroes don't always wear capes. Mine wears a white coat 🥼 . Doctor's all across the world are on the front lines helping us fight this pandemic. Let's all take time to appreciate the sacrifices they are making today and everyday. We can all also play a part in protecting our Doctor's and everyone else working at hospitals by STAYING HOME! Thank you Dr. @iantonique ! 🙏🏾 #nationaldoctorsday
There were times, however, when Antonique quarantined herself overnight in the family's guesthouse while her patients awaited their COVID-19 test results. She wouldn't see her family and wouldn't even go inside the main house, going right back to the hospital in the morning.
When the virus started to spread around the country in March, Peterson began having conversations with her family about the proper precautions it needed to take. Her discussions with Patrick were extensive, she said.
The Petersons were like other families throughout the country that had someone on the hospital front lines. The risk went beyond Antonique potentially being exposed every day. She warned Patrick -- who has diabetes and is considered a high risk for serious COVID-19 complications by medical standards -- and her mother about the serious risks of even going to the grocery store.
"From a medical perspective, like, 'Hey, we need to take this serious, please make sure you're wearing your masks, or if you need to leave the home, make sure the first thing when you get home is to go take a shower, get out of your clothes," she said. "So, it was several constant discussions throughout the house about, 'Hey, everyone, we need to be making sure we're taking extreme precautions to be on top of everything.'"
They even devised a plan for Antonique Peterson's return from work.
She'd go through the garage and the backyard to the guesthouse, where she showered and changed. Then she could go into the main house.
The plan at home has been "strict," Patrick said. "Just making sure that we do all things possible to make sure that we're safe in the Peterson residence.
"The advice that she's given us as a household is definitely social distance is, by far, No. 1, and just making sure that all surfaces that you touch or [are] going to be around is clean and making sure that you wash [your] hands as much as possible. So you just have to make sure you do your part to understand the [gravity] this virus has and how it can affect not only your life but the people around you as well. So, you just have to be smart and just hopefully this deal will roll over and we can come back to some normal lifestyle."
As part of her residency, Peterson is in the midst of rotations, which has exposed her to various degrees of COVID-19 patients the past few months. She spent April working in in-patient service, which, she explained, is essentially a regular medicine floor for patients who were admitted to the hospital overnight. She worked 12-hour shifts, six days a week. There, she was able to treat a "handful" of COVID-19 patients who weren't critical or unstable enough to be in the ICU.
But in May, Peterson worked in the ICU, where she saw firsthand the devastating effects of COVID-19. This month, however, she's in outpatient care, a calmer experience that has her working 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.
She said St. Joseph's -- or Phoenix, for that matter -- didn't see the initial wave of patients that hospitals in other major metro cities did, though positive cases in Arizona are trending upward. However, she wasn't allowed to be as hands-on with ICU patients as she was on the in-patient floors because of their critical condition. While those patients were under the attending doctor's care, Peterson had a front-row seat.
"I wasn't used to just dealing with that type of that higher level intensity of critical care," she said.
However, because of the never-before-seen nature of the virus, Peterson was learning on the fly, both from her attending doctors and from the research she could consume. With new information coming out weekly, Peterson tried to stay up to date, sometimes with the help of mailing lists that flagged certain papers, research or medications as suggestions for doctors to read or try.
But everything moved fast. Some medications and treatment ideas that were used to treat COVID-19 patients in April were already replaced by newer ideas and medications this month.
"Everything's just still so new and fresh," she said. "It's just kind of read on your own and read studies and just kind of discuss it and just get everyone's thoughts."
The ICU is where she experienced some of the highest-stress situations of the coronavirus outbreak.
There were scenarios in which a patient either wasn't tested for COVID-19 when they arrived in the ICU or started showing symptoms a couple of days into their treatment and needed to be tested immediately.
"That's where the stress gets high and everyone's holding their breath, until the COVID test comes back, pending the results for that," Peterson said. "So far, it's been a good experience overall. It hasn't been like too crazy, though."
But it was nothing she had prepared for.
"Absolutely not," she said. "Obviously, in med school, you do your microbiology and your pathophysiology and all those things, but, I mean, it's common viruses that we've seen in the past or deal with. This is obviously a new virus that just started, and everyone is still learning about it now, kind of figure out how to deal with it. So, I mean, absolutely not. It's nothing that was even thought to be."
That said, Peterson is living out a childhood dream.
She wanted to be a doctor from the time she was young, when she had the goal of becoming a pediatrician. That evolved into family medicine when she realized she wanted to take care of more than just children. She went to Louisiana State University, where she met Patrick.
When she graduated in 2011, Patrick had just been drafted by the Cardinals, and the two moved to the Phoenix area. She went back to school to get her master's degree in 2012 and a year later began medical school at the Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine at Midwestern University. What was supposed to be a four-year program turned into five years because of the birth of her first daughter, Paityn, in 2015.
Peterson graduated from medical school in 2018 and started her three-year residency, from which she's set to graduate in June 2021.
As she faced the coronavirus from the front lines, her decision to pursue family medicine never wavered.
The past few months have been a whirlwind for Peterson, but she thinks her experience will help her become a better doctor. Facing COVID-19 will be nothing like everyday medicine practiced by a family doctor, which treats general conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure.
"But just like dealing with this COVID pandemic, something that's so new and fresh," Peterson said, "it just challenges me to do my own research or accept something so unfamiliar and so uncomfortable and try to adapt and learn from it."