Pandemic Reflections

‘It Won’t Be Okay for a While’ — Reflecting on a Year of Covid-19

I’m an ER doctor treating Covid-19 in New York City. This is what I wish I knew a year ago.

Craig Spencer MD MPH
Published in
5 min readMar 1, 2021
Photo: Clay LeConey

In New York City, the first case of Covid-19 was confirmed on March 1, 2020. Today, on the one year anniversary, I wrote myself a letter. This is what I wish I could have told myself at the start of the pandemic.

Get ready. Sleep more. Spend extra time with the family. Cherish every minute. Things are about to get weird. It won’t be okay for a while.

As a doctor in the emergency room, the next year will test every part of you. This pandemic will strip your energy. It will eat away time from your family. Make you afraid when you come home and your toddler runs toward you before you shower the virus away. You won’t see your friends. Some of your colleagues will die, casualties of the virus they fought against.

I know right now you think you’re ready. Yeah, you’ve done similar things before. Don’t let that fool you.

You saw people die every day in the Ebola treatment center in West Africa and survived a 19-day battle with the disease yourself. You made it through that; you’ll make it through this.

The images out of China are scary and unsettling—health care workers getting infected and dying. The quarantines in Italy are undoubtedly jarring as well. The coming weeks will only be worse. You’ll see pictures from Iran, bodies piling up. This virus doesn’t play. Learn everything you can. Be prepared.

On February 29, 2020, Seattle reports the first Covid-19 death in the U.S. The next day, March 1, the first confirmed Covid-19 case in New York City is announced. You’ve been waiting. Later you’ll learn there were already thousands of cases circulating undetected.

You’re about to get hit with a tidal wave of patients. They won’t stop streaming in, each one sicker than the last. So take a minute now and breathe.

You’ll see your first Covid patient in just a few days. He’ll be the only Covid patient in your emergency room.



Craig Spencer MD MPH

NYC ER doctor | Ebola Survivor | Director of Global Health in Emergency Medicine at Columbia University | Public Health Professor | Doctors Without Borders BoD