Reflections on COVID-19 from a Physician Who Experienced It Firsthand
I recently found myself unconscious and lying in a pool of water and blood. Feeling woozy and disoriented, I struggled to my feet, trying to discern what had just happened. I shut off the shower and held a compress to my forehead to slow the bleeding and then called my 30-week pregnant wife to tell her I had passed out while in the shower. I asked her to call 911 and to let them know that I had tested positive for COVID-19. My wife frantically rushed into the bathroom wearing a mask as I tried to assure her that I was ok while asking for her to keep her distance. So how did I get to this point?
My story began 2 days earlier as I had developed a low-grade fever, muscle aches, fatigue and a headache. Being a primary care physician and on the front lines, I knew I was at risk of potentially contracting COVID-19. While realizing that my symptoms could represent a myriad of other possibilities, I knew I had to isolate myself to reduce my chance of infecting others if this was truly COVID-19. I immediately went to my car and spent the next few hours coordinating plans to care for our four-year-old son and trying to find a place where I could obtain testing. After hitting multiple dead ends and through the help of friends, I was able to find a small urgent care that had a few test kits available. I was swabbed and immediately went home and quarantined myself to the bedroom. Over the next few days, my fevers spiked to 101.1 with improvement after taking fever relief medicines. I tried to stay hydrated and rest while my family and co-workers tried to navigate our various responsibilities under these new circumstances.
I’m normally a very private person but I have spent a lot of time in reflection due to being under quarantine while recovering from my illness and felt it was important to share my perspective as a physician who has experienced the effects of COVID-19 directly. 1) COVID-19 is real, and it is here in our community! Please don’t dismiss it. I am relatively young and healthy but it still has taken quite a toll on me. Imagine what this could do to our parents/grandparents or those who are immunocompromised.
2) If you haven’t already, please practice distancing yourselves – this is the only effective measure we have at this time to “flatten the curve” and help lower the number of casualties in this war. Yes, this is a war and the only way we can defeat this enemy is by each of us isolating ourselves at home and avoiding going out unless absolutely necessary. While on the surface this may not seem like an act of valor, I would argue that this simple act is truly brave and can save millions of lives. I’m reminded of a recent conversation I had with one of my patients. She recounted how she is one of 10 siblings and that her 90-year-old father lives with her. She has completely restricted outside visitors (including her siblings) from coming to see him because she wants to protect him. She said a number of siblings are upset at her but she knows she is doing the right thing for her “Papi.” So if not for yourself, then figure out who that “Papi” is in your life for whom you will make these sacrifices because he/she needs you.
3) It’s normal to feel anxious or scared. We all feel it. This can be a time of isolation but let’s not allow “social distancing” to limit our ability to be social – think of it more as physical distancing and avoidance of group settings. I’ve seen a number of my family and friends get creative and use technology to have family reunions, game nights, or family dinners.
4) We need more personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilators. During my recent interactions with the healthcare system, I saw first-hand that most front-line healthcare workers are lacking sufficient and appropriate PPE due to nationwide shortages. I personally experienced this as I saw palpable fear in the faces of the first responders who stood over 20 feet away and argued over who needed to come in contact with me. I don’t fault these individuals who are some of the bravest I know but rather recognize that it’s more a reflection of how unprepared they must feel to deal with a novel virus, especially with limited supplies of PPE. We need large manufacturing companies to step up and switch their production lines to creating PPE and ventilators so we have enough armamentarium to fight this war. CEOs, like Elon Musk, have already declared that they will start manufacturing ventilators. We honestly need more of that – we need gloves, face shields, gowns, respirator masks, and more.
5) We should try and avoid the natural inclination to only think about ourselves and our immediate needs/insecurities. Many people are scared and will be hurting as a result of the scourge’s toll on the economy but many of us can help. Call and check in on your neighbors and see if you can drop off groceries to their doorstep. Check with your local social services organization particularly food banks and shelters as they will need money and resources to help those most vulnerable in society. Others have suggested creative ideas like buying a gift certificate to a local restaurant. Not all of us can do these things but if you have the ability and resources to do so, I would strongly encourage you to do so. Winston Churchill famously said “We make a living by what we get but we make a life by what we give.” When we reflect back on this moment in history, how would we want historians, and, our children, to remember us? As a society who hoarded critical supplies or one that gave selflessly?
6) Thank you to the many brave individuals who go out each day and put their lives at risk so we as a society can be safe. These include my colleagues on the frontlines such as physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and first responders. But we also must not forget the critical roles being played by so many others such as sanitation workers, grocery clerks, delivery drivers, utility workers, post-office workers, and so many more. Some of us don’t have a choice but to be out in public due to our roles, however we accept these risks because we know it is part of our duty to society. For those of you who can be at home, please stay at home and protect yourselves and your families - this courageous act can and will have a lasting impact on our society as a whole and ultimately will allow us to lessen the effects of this pandemic.
7) This too shall pass, as the saying goes. We will eventually win this war, although it will take collective sacrifices from many to get us there. Moments like these tend to remind us of the frailty of life and the juxtaposition of sheer joy with profound sadness. Practice being in the moment and enjoying the precious time you have with one another in this world — I, for one, am not taking it for granted.
Written by Dr. Vibin Roy MD, MBA