First Denial, Then Fear: Covid-19 Patients in Their Own Words

Boy, was I wrong. On Thursday afternoon/evening, I developed a nasty cough, replete with heavy chest congestion. This continued into Friday, which is when my fever returned (101.6).

I called my internist on Friday, 3/13. The physician’s assistant I spoke with said it sounded like a flu that turned into bronchitis. She prescribed cough syrup and a Z-Pak and said I could feel better as early as the next day.

Unfortunately, I got worse over the weekend, my coughing having progressed to the point where it was making it hard for me to breathe. On Sunday, 3/15, I made my way to the emergency room at NYU Langone Medical Center, my nearest ER. I described my symptoms at the ER, but based on all the horror stories I had read about the difficulty of getting a Covid-19 test, I wasn’t expecting much—and I was right.

This was during the worst days of the test shortage. To get tested back then, you needed symptoms AND (1) travel to an affected area, (2) exposure to an affected person, or (3) test results (like cold/flu panel) to rule out alternatives. During that first visit to the ER, they did give me the cold/flu panel, which tests for a wide range of viral and bacterial agents that can cause cold/flu symptoms. My test came up… negative.

By Monday 3/16, I couldn’t breathe again. I rushed back to the ER—and this time they were on their game. They admitted me, gave me oxygen, put me in an isolation room—and FINALLY gave me the Coronavirus test.

Last weekend, two nights after his Twitter thread, David Lat was intubated and put on a ventilator. He has not tweeted since. He remains in critical condition.

III. The Caregivers

Instead of hearing from patients, the picture we’re beginning to have is emerging in harrowing terms from the social media posts and interviews with doctors, nurses, EMTs, and health care professionals who are on the front lines of the hospitals’ responses across America.

Mary Macdonald, emergency department nurse, Oakland County, Michigan, in an Instagram post: I’m an emergency room nurse and have been working on the front lines of this coronavirus for the last 10 plus days, and I have to admit that if you had asked me 10-plus days ago if I thought that this was going to get as bad as it was, I would’ve told you “no.” You heard the rumors, you saw the trends, but until you see it firsthand you just have no idea what it’s like, what it’s going to be like, and it’s truly frightening.

Craig Spencer, Director of Global Health in Emergency Medicine, New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, via Twitter: Walk in for your 8 am shift: Immediately struck by how the calm of the early morning city streets is immediately transformed. The bright fluorescent lights of the ER reflect off everyone’s protective goggles. There is a cacophony of coughing. You stop. Mask up. Walk in.

Meredith Case, internal medicine resident, Columbia University Medical Center, via Twitter: The deluge is here. Our ICU is completely full with intubated Covid patients. We are rapidly moving to expand capacity. We are nearly out of PPE.

Craig Spencer: You take signout from the previous team, but nearly every patient is the same, young and old: Cough, shortness of breath, fever. They are really worried about one patient. Very short of breath, on the maximum amount of oxygen we can give, but still breathing fast.

Esther Choo, to CNN’s Stelter: The truth is, the sickest patients are terrifying. They are air-hungry, dropping their oxygen, confused, distressed. We can never show that. But it is terrifying.





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