April 15, 2020, Day 37 in hiding from the Taxman (get it, April 15, tax deadline? Oh, never mind).
Fear: He woke up to a dry cough. Not his. Hers. Was she okay? The coughing woke her as well. When she sat up, she said she was exhausted. He was immediately concerned. He was out shopping a few days before. Wore a mask, gloves. Thought he wiped down everything he brought in. Did he miss something? She hadn’t gone anywhere herself. She knew she couldn’t. Her immune system was too compromised from her stage four cancer. Now she was showing symptoms. She had a fever. What should they do? No way were they going to an ER. So they waited a bit. The next day she was worse. She called her oncologist, who told her to come to the hospital downtown. The oncologist would alert the ER so they would be prepared. When they got there they were directed to a tent, where she was taken and tested. She had the signs. They admitted her, but he wasn’t allowed to go with her. She texted that she was scared. They had to take her phone. A contamination issue. No more contact. A doctor called. She was getting worse. Could a ventilator help? Maybe, but we don’t have enough. What? They are all in use. I didn’t believe him. Was it a stage four cancer protocol? He was vague, was sorry. Would see what he could do. That evening he called. His voice was soft, low. She didn’t make it. She passed. Alone. Without her husband. Without her children. With only strangers. Who probably tried to console her, but had to do so behind masks and gowns. My last vision of her walking toward a hospital door, looking over her shoulder at me, terrified, mouthing my name. Eyes wet with tears.
That is my fear. That is what sits deep inside every time I think about going outside, seeing other people. It is both irrational and real. That something so horrible could be so close.
Sorry: So usually I try to bring levity to this blog, but felt compelled to go a different direction today. No, this didn’t actually happen. At least to us. But it has happened to so many others and I simply can’t imagine what that must be like. My heart goes out to every family who is struggling with this.
On the Other Hand: I read a commentary in the New York Times a few days ago that was critical of some humorous anecdotes during these times. Well, guess what? That is the human condition. Yes, there is sadness. But we still have to cope. Have to deal. Have to find a way to understand, process and move on. That’s what human beings do.
Shout Out: Jeremy Mudd, MD, Resident in the ER at New York Presbyterian Hospital. At risk every day. And the added trauma of having to deal with situations like the one above. Those are the kind of images that stay burned in a young doctors life forever. Stay safe, Jeremy, be well, and do the best you can.