I Am an ER Physician, and I Have Covid-19
I am an ER doctor. On the morning of March 14, I got the unfortunate news that I tested positive for Covid-19. My leadership team contacted me to offer support. I talked to my family and several close friends to let them know. I got on the horn with my close contacts to let them know (and haven’t had close contact with anyone since becoming symptomatic). I also spoke with my local department of public health and occupational health team. And now, I’m focused on getting better.
Physically, I feel fine. My symptoms include mild muscle soreness and headaches mostly. I haven’t had a fever since waking up a little sweaty Friday morning. My breathing is fine, and I don’t have a bad cough, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. I have enough insulin, Motrin, Tylenol, and albuterol for at least three weeks. My family and friends have been incredibly thoughtful and generous, offering to help take care of me and gather groceries and necessities. I haven’t gone stir crazy yet, but I might start browsing Amazon in search of something to do soon. I’ve had plenty of FaceTime calls, and my Haitian dad (who is also a physician) is literally calling me every four to six hours to check in.
Emotionally, I feel anxious, guilty, and thankful.
I’m anxious because I know this disease can get a lot worse very fast. I am a Type 1 diabetic and asthmatic, so I have been extra paranoid these past few weeks about wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), washing my hands, and watching out for symptoms of Covid-19. I started feeling slightly sick two days before my diagnosis. My only symptoms were a mild cough and that nebulous pre-sick feeling (light-headed and tired). While working the prior week, I wore PPE the entire time — which should have protected me from everyone and everyone from me.
I’m thankful that I am young, that I have health insurance, that I have access to care, that I understand medicine and illness better than most.
When I woke up on Friday, I still felt just a little sick. I noticed some muscle soreness and a mild cough, and I felt slightly feverish. I didn’t know if I was really going to get sick, but I didn’t want to risk infecting others, so I found another doctor to cover my shift. I contacted my leadership team and was instructed to get tested. I was evaluated and found to have a low-grade temperature of 99.7. Otherwise, my vitals were normal, so I got swabbed and sent home. I continued to self-quarantine while my colleagues picked up my shifts. I slept, hung out with my dog, and watched a lot of TV. I also ate some pho (the non-evidence-based best food when feeling sick).
On Saturday morning, I woke up to a message from a colleague that my test came back positive for Covid-19.
Because I am mostly healthy and active and my asthma and diabetes are in good control, I’m hopeful that I will get through this without severe or critical illness. So far, I feel fine, but I am closely watching my symptoms and will call my brother, sister, or one of my friends to take me to the hospital if I get severe symptoms like very high fever, shortness of breath, chest pain, or severe fatigue.
I feel guilty because I’m horrified that I may have exposed other people to Covid-19. I was at a conference out of town a few days before getting sick. Of course, I washed my hands like crazy. But, I didn’t cover my cough because I never had a cough. I avoided all handshakes and gave people the “Wakanda forever” salute instead. Yet I still worry that I either picked up the illness there or, worse, exposed someone else. If the conference had been two days later, when we started to get more data about the rapid spread, morbidity, and similar-looking projections of Covid-19 from Italy and more detail of the spread within the U.S., I wouldn’t have gone. In fact, the organizers likely would have cancelled. I worry that I touched something or coughed somewhere and that now someone else is sick because of me. I still feel guilty even though I stopped any and all social contact and got tested as soon as I developed symptoms. I am working on getting over that guilt, but it’s tough.
I feel thankful as well, though. I’m thankful that I am young, that I have health insurance, that I have access to care, that I understand medicine and illness better than most, that I have disability insurance, that I have money in a savings account, that I have a salary, and that I have a safe and clean apartment to quarantine in.
Mostly, I feel incredibly thankful for my supportive colleagues, family, and friends who have shown me overwhelming support. If I accepted drop-off grocery offers from everyone who volunteered, I would have enough supplies to last six months. Thank you to everyone who continues to offer, but please consider helping your elderly or at-risk neighbors and friends instead! I have also been energized by so many kind and generous words and fun FaceTime sessions. They are keeping my hopes up, and I am going to continue to need that over the next few weeks.
Hopefully, I improve and don’t get sicker. Hopefully, I am immune to Covid-19 after all this and can return to work and cover for the 10% of my peers who are likely to get infected before this is over.
When it comes to the broader issue of Covid-19 in this country, I hope we soon find a way to change our health system and laws so that everyone in our society has access to quality care in a reasonable amount of time. So that those who need testing can get it. So that people who work in hourly jobs don’t go bankrupt from illness. So that we all have somewhere safe to live. So that our loved ones will be cared for when they are sick.
Hopefully, I improve quickly and don’t get sicker. Hopefully, I am immune to Covid-19 after all this and can return to work and cover for the 10% of my peers who are likely to get infected before this is over. I am not very religious, but I welcome your prayers or positive vibes if you want to send them along. I think they will make a difference.
I hope that we all get through this Covid-19 thing as best as we can with as few infections as possible. As little morbidity and mortality as possible. As much humility and civility as possible. As much love and compassion as possible.
Please continue to follow social-distancing protocols and work from home if you can; if you cannot — don’t feel guilty for doing what you need to do to survive. Keep washing your hands. Stay away from people who cough. If you have to be close to folks, try to stay six feet away.
As health care providers, we often pretend we aren’t sick and try to “tough it out.” We definitely shouldn’t be doing this (now or probably ever). We need to take our symptoms seriously if we are worried we will endanger others. We need to have each other’s backs. We need systems and leadership that protect and support us. We need to protect ourselves for when the next serious illness or mass casualty comes along — as we know, it is always looming on the horizon.
For now — stay safe, protect others, and believe in humanity.