Joining the War Against Coronavirus

With this invisible menace all around me, I would be lying to you if I said I wasn’t scared

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For the past week, I’ve been on the sidelines in the fight against the SARS CoV-2 virus. I’ve been off clinical duty, helping my hospital and colleagues deal with the pandemic from the comfort and relative safety of my home. All that changes on March 23. That’s when I take over the clinical ICU service in my hospital.

I’ve been reading numerous medical journals and articles. I’ve been going over clinical guidelines and poring over the latest CDC recommendations. I’ve been reading news reports about the pandemic, as well as social media post of other healthcare professionals who have gotten sick. I’ve watched hours and hours of breathless news coverage.

I’ve never served in the military. I wonder if this is how it feels fighting a war.

I’ve helped my group and hospital prepare for the expected surge of COVID-19 patients. I’ve helped develop policies and treatment protocols. I’ve checked in with my partners already in the fight at my hospital, offering as much support as I can. It all becomes real in a couple of days when I start working in the ICU myself.

I’ve never served in the military. I do not know what it’s like going into a war zone, with an enemy that is unseen and could be lurking around every corner. I wonder, is this how it feels to fight a war?

That is because, it is a war out there. I’ve read the harrowing details of what doctors and nurses in Italy are going through. I’ve read the horrible situations in which they find themselves. I’ve read how many doctors have had to make excruciatingly difficult decisions in the face of limited capacity and seemingly unlimited need of critical medical services. I’m nervous that this will happen to me. No doubt, it can.

I’ve been through really bad flu seasons. I’ve worked through the H1N1 pandemic in 2009, and I’ve seen that virus kill young people. I’ve had a lot of very busy days in the ICU with a lot of pain and suffering.

This, however, feels very different.

I don’t remember having to battle a virus that could kill me. Sure, other diseases can be lethal if I contract them: influenza A/B, HIV, Hepatitis C, and Hepatitis B. There’s a vaccine for Hepatitis B (I’ve gotten it). There is a vaccine for influenza (which I get every year). With the advent of new drugs, hepatitis C is now curable. Influenza has very effective treatments, as well.

Anecdotal reports aside, nothing has been proven to work against COVID-19. There is no vaccine yet. And this virus can make people sick…very sick. And being young doesn’t guarantee you can’t get sick. And so, I’m scared. I would be lying to you if I said I wasn’t.

All of that said, I can’t cower in fear. This is what I signed up for: taking care of patients at their most vulnerable. I’m blessed to have been chosen to serve in this field. I know that — in the face of the economic meltdown from this virus — so many others have it way worse than I do, the threat to my health from this virus notwithstanding.

And so, as I enter the fight against this virus, I will do my best to protect myself. I will wash my hands again, and again, and again. I will clean my work area again, and again, and again. I will wear proper PPE (the picture above was from my fit testing for the N95 mask). I will work my hardest to fight for the lives of every patient entrusted to my care.

And, most importantly, I raise my hands in prayer to the Lord for protection:

Lord our God, protect us all from this virus and it’s scourge.

Lord our God, take this menace away and keep it away for good.

Lord our God, protect all of us in the frontlines fighting against this pandemic.

Lord our God, help those adversely affected from the fallout of this disease.

And Lord, please, comfort all those who have lost loved ones from this disease.

In Your Most Holy Name do I ask these things. Amen.

NY Times featured Pulmonary and Critical Care Specialist | Physician Leader | Author and Blogger | His latest book is “Code Blue,” a medical thriller.

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