Tufts University School of Medicine, MS3 (MD/MBA)
May 10, 2020
I had heard about coronavirus once prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. I was studying for Step 1 and was watching SketchyMicro – the infamous medical student cartoon study aid. The sketch “Kingdom of SARS” opened with the narrator saying “Coronavirus, it’s not a super high yield virus”. If only the creators knew that this non-high yield virus would end up changing the world.
In late February, after the Biogen outbreak in Boston, local hospitals diligently prepared for patients and everyone’s anxiety levels skyrocketed. As an MS3 on the Infectious Disease service, I was terrified. The only things I knew about coronavirus came from that Sketchy video and a few articles I had read. I had heard that people were dying and grew fearful because I now found myself on the front lines of this disease.
After a stressful week on the ID service, I made it to my last day and was ready to leave when my attending asked if I wanted to see one last consult. I obliged and went to see a patient with suspected aspiration pneumonia. We spent about 30 minutes together with his family and towards the end of the visit, the patient’s daughter asked whether he could have coronavirus. She and her daughters had just arrived from China a couple weeks ago and then her father became ill. It was in this moment that I felt my stomach in my throat. I thought to myself, “Did I just expose myself to coronavirus because I wanted to suck up to my attending?” My attending reassured everyone that this was an unlikely scenario. However, I couldn’t get the fear out of my mind. We left the patient’s room, discussed the case, and I left the hospital.
On my way home, I stopped to get groceries and received a call from my senior resident. He informed me that the patient I had just seen was being tested for COVID-19 and that I needed to immediately go home and self-quarantine until his results returned. During this time, the hospital was still sending specimens to outside labs and results were not expected for 4-7 days. I tried to hide my panic; I was in a crowded grocery store and could have exposed hundreds of people to this deadly disease. I abandoned my cart and immediately went home.
I stayed home googling coronavirus for five days until I finally received the good news that the patient had not tested positive. My experience made me realize that so many patients feel this way every time they’re awaiting a test result. They’re scared, curious, and anxious, and we as healthcare providers often forget to acknowledge this uncertainty. Although I wish I had never experienced this scare, I feel that I’m now able to better empathize with my patients. Hopefully, by being able to validate their feelings, I will be able to gain their trust in not only the healthcare field but in me as their future physician.