‘I’m A Doctor Who Got COVID-19—And It Changed The Way I Do My Job'
I’m an emergency medicine physician at New York-Presbyterian Columbia Medical Center, and I was out for 14 days recovering from the illness myself. I had every symptom: a fever for days, chest pain, and I couldn’t breathe. I was self-isolating in a separate bedroom as my wife and daughter, and I missed my 13-month-old’s first steps. It broke my heart.
Returning to work was horrific, and I felt like I was going into battle. I was fully gowned up, with two masks, a shield, and a head cover. I probably wore all this for six or seven hours before I could take it off for a five-minute break and eat something. By that point, my face hurt, my forehead hurt, my ears hurt…
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But that didn’t compare to the emotional shock. My first day back, I walked around and every single person in every room was on a vent or a non-rebreather, and it was so eerie. It was like I was in some alternate universe, out of some movie. It was like: Where am I? What happened?
The world had turned upside down in two weeks. None of us have seen our departments like this before, with back-to-back critical patients, where the next two hours determine whether they will live or die. You used to have patients at that level a couple times a shift, but it was multiple times an hour. I’d take a moment of pause before I went in; if you don’t mentally prepare, you’re going to tear up.
Having the virus myself prepared me in a different way. It gave me perspective, and I’m grateful I could understand what patients were going through. It was a very scary experience for me, and I understood why they were scared, too. I’d tell patients who weren’t admitted that it will get better, that their symptoms are normal, but it’s just a very, very long road.
—Additional reporting by Benedict Evans
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