A Health Care Professional’s Personal Experience with COVID-19
Posted on February 23, 2021 |
By Michael Stephen, MD
My experience with COVID-19 started on Easter weekend of 2020, when I was pulled from my usual duties to cover overnight shifts in the medical intensive care unit at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. From the moment I entered the hospital, I felt extraordinary tension and fear; for the first time in many healthcare workers’ lives, we recognized our jobs brought real personal danger.
I remember the first COVID-19 hospital admission I had: a 60-year-old woman who arrived with a smile on her face and a positive attitude – but severe inflammation in her lungs. I’ll never forget her smile, humor, and positivity in light of this devastating infection.
The first two months treating patients with COVID-19 was unlike anything I’ve experienced in medicine. We had no medicines to treat and many patients seemed to decline rapidly with respiratory failure. We also panicked as a medical community, treating with all types of drugs that were unproven.
We abandoned primum non nocere, first do no harm, for primum succerere, rush to help. It was a normal reaction as everybody wanted to do something, but I don’t think it did much good.
Still, despite a feeling of being out control, some patients did well. Their positive attitude certainly helped, and many fought through extreme deconditioning by working hard on nutrition and physical therapy, cornerstones of fighting your way back from any lung disease. The hospital workers showed courage and fortitude, and through it all I never saw a schedule go unfilled or people go absent despite the tremendous personal risk.
The personal risk became a reality for me after two months in the hospital, and I contracted the virus. My symptoms were extraordinarily high fevers, muscle aches and a deep brain fog for two weeks. To make matters worse, my wife and two young children contracted it from me. My wife is high risk because of an underlying genetic illness, so I was terrified for her wellbeing. Watching my nine-year-old daughter experience a 104-degree fever and the inability to walk was terrible.
Fortunately, they all recovered and we can talk about a happy ending now.
For me, after two weeks of intense fevers and muscle aches, I ended up in the hospital with blood clots in my lungs and pneumonia. I was admitted to Jefferson Hospital where the care was amazing. After discharge, it was another two months of slow recovery with light exercise and attention to nutrition. I now consider myself one of the lucky ones who has recovered completely.
I am back now on the front lines, taking care of COVID-19 patients, and in just eight months the scene has been transformed. Health care providers are more in control ,whereas before, the virus was in control. We know so much more about the disease and its manifestations now.
The future is unknown with this disease, as we are now seeing patients who were infected months ago now coming in with fatigue, lung fibrosis, and heart and blood blot issues. But the medical community is steadfast. I have seen no give up in the hospital, and we are all committed to seeing this through and defeating this scourge. With the help of the lung community, I am quite convinced we will.