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Suffering through COVID-19: A Doctor's Personal Journey

Frontline health care workers had a nearly 12 times higher risk of testing positive for COVID-19 compared with individuals in the general community.

My husband and I (both physicians) know 2 doctors who had coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19). One died. The other did not. But, as I followed the survivor’s course through his texts and emails, it seemed like he wished he had. About 2 weeks into his COVID-19 illness, he confided in me, “Hope when my time comes, it is quick.”

The doctor had developed loss of taste, breathlessness and exhaustion, symptoms typical of COVID-19 about 14 days earlier. Since nothing tasted good, he lost weight in his already slender 60-year-old frame. His knee, which had bothered him before the onset of COVID-19, now was markedly worse.

He said, “The only thing I can think of is an amputation.” This lower extremity limitation, combined with his breathlessness, meant he couldn’t walk up the stairs to his bedroom. This, along with his other symptoms, depressed him.

The doctor’s wife, too, became ill. She seemed to do better, however, perhaps because she was somewhat younger.

As this physician approached the end of what was a three-week course off work due to COVID-19, soon to be extended to 3, I asked him, “Do you have any advice for doctors at risk?” He replied that his answer was not profound, though I found it so.

Certainly, what he said will make me more careful.

"I was 'careful.' As in 'we are being careful.' I just want to choke people who say that, because it is usually the preface to why they feel justified in doing what they know to be unsafe or careless. I wear a surgical mask everywhere I go. I change clothes at the end of my shift. Shower when I get home. Sleep in a separate room. We don’t go out and have limited outdoor contact with friends. But I went to work and saw 150-200 people plus staff in the two weeks prior and I doubt they were all “careful." So, in the end I had contact with a lot of people, which by definition is not 'careful.' I got it and promptly infected my wife. So, be more careful than I was."

Shirley M. Mueller, MD, is an Adjunct Associate Professor of Neurology at Indiana University.The views expressed in the piece reflect those of the author, not necessarily those of the publication.Healthcare experts and clinicians interested in contributing to Contagion can contact the editorial team here.