CF And A Global Respiratory Viral Pandemic

I am a full-time physician with CF in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Let that sink in for a second.

Do I protect myself and stay home from work? Do I go to work and take care of sick patients?

Some personal health background

I have mild to moderate CF lung disease/bronchiectasis. I take really good care of myself, am very compliant with my regimen, and, in fact, just got off the treadmill after a 2 mile run. However, every time I get even what is supposedly a "mild" common cold, it turns into severe bronchitis for about 2 weeks, often necessitating about a week off of work. About once a year I require IV antibiotics via a PICC.

Some work background

I am a private practice gastroenterologist for adult patients, so most of my time is spent taking care of relatively healthy patients with IBS and GERD in an outpatient office. The vast majority of these patients do not have cold or flu, and aren't coughing or sneezing.

My practice has instituted "COVID-19" precautions and giving anyone with a cough a mask when they check-in at our front desk. Also, our triage nurses check each patient's temperature prior to putting them in my exam room, so they are being screened for fever. Also, (for now) we still have plenty of hand sanitizer in our office, plus soap and a sink in every room.

BUT, next week is my one week per month that I am on the "hospital service," meaning I will be rounding and doing procedures on about 25 patients per day from Monday through Sunday in a busy, 500-bed academic hospital center in the heart of downtown.

So, you're all CF patients and caregivers -- essentially amateur doctors and nurses -- what do I do? Think about that for a minute while I comment further.

Am I worried about coronavirus?

No joke, I am NOT worried about catching this virus or developing pneumonia or respiratory failure for it.

OK, let me rephrase that: I am NO MORE WORRIED about this current pandemic than I am about catching ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING all the time! In fact, I feel like the world at large is finally catching up to those of us with chronic pulmonary conditions (not just CF but also COPD, asthma, lung cancer, IPF, primary cilia dyskinesia, etc.) as well as healthcare workers who are on the front lines taking care of sick patients every day. 

I already wash my hands or use hand sanitizer before and after every patient, after touching charts, pens, equipment, etc. I already wear a surgical mask when I am doing endoscopies at work, and when I travel on airplanes. Additionally, I carry a small bottle of hand sanitizer in my pocket whenever I go to public gatherings at my place of worship or my kids' school.

People with CF have always practiced infection control

So, was I already crazy for being this diligent to begin with, or was the rest of the world already oblivious for pretending like we aren't surrounded by infectious diseases (flu, common cold, atypical pneumonia) all the time? Alternatively, has the rest of the world finally wised up, and am I now the one who's nuts because I am not taking the contagiousness and severity of coronavirus seriously enough?

Welcome to our world, planet Earth. The world of people who don't just casually live their lives with healthy airways. Take care of yourselves, folks. Wash your hands. Be careful where you go and with whom you come into contact. Use hand sanitizer and carry it on your person. Wear a mask if you have to.

Coming soon: You think my chronic cough bothered you before? What about in the midst of a respiratory virus pandemic!

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