Navigating COVID-19 As A CF'er Who Is Also A Healthcare Provider

I am on day 14 of self-imposed isolation from the coronavirus given my underlying moderately severe lung disease.

You may remember from a prior post that I’m a physician, but I have not been to the office since March 12th. It’s the longest I’ve ever not gone to work in my 14+ year career at my practice. My four (all non-CF, of course) partners have been covering for me in the office and the hospital. They were so gracious about making sure that I protected myself given my pre-existing condition.

Being a healthcare provider... from home

I am doing all that I can from my house, including taking all phone calls from the hospital doctors consulting our service, joining conference calls about the hospital and practice response to the pandemic, and setting up a telemedicine program for our patients to continue to receive medical care.

Yet, I have tremendous guilt about the fact that my partners are essentially risking their lives to cover for me and ensure that I reduce my risk of contracting COVID-19, and also extreme anxiety regarding the possibility of one of my partners getting sick or even dying from the virus. As most of us know by now, the virus does not discriminate based on age, and there have been plenty of reports of young (under age 50) people getting pneumonia and dying from the disease.

I have reached out to my partners, had multiple group chats with them, have sent them each a hand-written thank you note, and my wife and I sent each of their families a gift basket online with all kinds of snacks and other goodies.

I am maintaining my “productivity,” essentially doing FaceTime Telehealth visits for approximately 6-7 patients per day over the past week from the comfort of my own home. The patients have been so appreciative, patient, and kind. The vast majority of them are doing quite well thus far, maintaining social distancing, and following the guidelines regarding protecting oneself from the microorganism.

I want to be there for my patients

Personally, I have a weird feeling of being like an outsider in this whole situation, because I am not going to the hospital or office to meet and examine patients. Rationally, of course, I realize that I have no choice. If I were to contract COVID, I would almost certainly get pneumonia, possibly wind up on a ventilator and taking up an ICU bed — and even if I were to survive it, would put myself at risk for worsening lung function long-term and increasing the rapidity with which I might someday need a lung transplant. That, if anything, I have a duty to my family and my community to stay healthy and not make this situation worse.

However, because I am not “out there” in the medical community actively taking care of patients, when I see or hear all these tributes online or on the news acknowledging and praising the doctors on the front lines, I do experience a bit of sadness inside. I am different because of my CF, and this is one of those situations that really shines the light on that.

I have risked my life to care for patients over the years. As a third-year medical student in 1997, I got HIV+ blood in my eye in the Mass General emergency room. I have rounded in the hospital and seen in the office innumerable patients with respiratory illnesses such as the common cold, the flu, tuberculosis, etc., to which I could have easily been exposed and contracted. Yet, in this situation, because of the extreme transmissibility of this disease and its predilection to cause pneumonia, I am relegated to the sidelines. I would be lying if I said it doesn’t hurt to sit this one out.

Continuing to help my community

But I must power on. One of my best friends once gave me some amazing advice that I try and remember almost daily: “Don’t focus on what you’re NOT doing, focus on what you ARE doing.” So I’m going to do that. I am going to do everything I can virtually for my patients, my partners, and my practice.

I am going to help out my local community, place of worship, and CF Foundation Chapter. And I’m going to keep in mind that there are many millions of others around the world — sick, food or shelter insecure, and/or unemployed — that are much worse off than my family and I are right now. I will spend the next few (weeks? months?) appreciative of what I have, keeping a positive attitude, and helping those in need.

Fellow CF’ers and family members and friends — stay safe, make smart choices, and be healthy.

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