The Anxiety of Being a Doctor With a Compromised Immune System
Doctors didn’t know what we were doing those first few weeks of the pandemic. I’d argue that we still don’t really know what we’re doing, but at least now we have a bit of experience. Physicians like me have our years of training and our fount of clinical knowledge, but this virus caught us completely off guard. In the beginning of the pandemic nothing seemed to be certain except that it was unlike anything that we’d ever seen, and that it was deadly. Each day brought a slew of new casualties and case reports. We quickly learned how much of a threat Covid-19 was to health care providers and other essential workers. Especially to those with preexisting conditions like me.
I had cancer. It has been years since my diagnosis, but my illness left me with scars that I’ll carry for the rest of my life. Not to mention the list of conditions that developed as a result of the tumor and my treatment. My medical record is a horror story told through clinic notes and ICD-10 codes. My cancer: “D44.7 — SDHC-related hereditary paraganglioma.” My stroke: “I69.33 — history of cerebrovascular accident with residual deficit.” Fourteen more codes tell stories of my arm weakness and paresthesia, of my difficult airway and obstructive sleep apnea, of my health-related traumatic stress and anxiety.
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These days I feel much better than my records make me look. All of the surgeries, nights spent in hospital beds, months of rehabilitation, and years of recovery have gotten me to a point where I can pass for healthy. Still, I am reminded of my illness every time I try to button up a shirt or choke a little on a drink or see my scars in the mirror. There is so much uncertainty about how a sick body will respond to an illness. I know what caused my cancer and I don’t know if it will come back. I know what caused my stroke and I don’t know if I will have another. I know what happened the last time I had a critical illness and I don’t know if my body can handle that again. I…