March 13, 2020


During medical school, most of us experienced a phenomenon called “second year med student disease”. The first year of med school, we learn how the body works and the second year, we learn how it falls apart. By the end of my second year, I suffered from lymphoma, rheumatoid arthritis, ovarian cancer, a brain tumor, and sarcoidosis, among other diseases. It is a wonder I survived. But I did, and I learned that we often have unexplained symptoms which do not mean we have a deadly disease. Living during a pandemic is very similar. Every day, I check out how I feel. Is that my usual morning cough? Do I feel more tired than usual? What about my breathing- is it normal? My eyes are burning, is that from COVID-19? No, it is from the hand sanitizer I am using so often and then, of course, rub my eyes, even though I am not supposed to touch my face, so of course they burn. But still the wonder and worry is there. I imagine we are all there right now. I have no good answer for that except to say that this nagging worry is real and OK to feel. Checking in with yourself can be good. Then let it go, and wash your hands once again, and go for a walk. Here in the northwest, spring is springing.

Numbers of tests for COVID-19 are picking up, but not fast enough, worried messages from patients are multiplying, more intense planning for worst case scenarios are happening by administrators. Reassurance and offers of help are the task of the day. By next week, I fear we will be overwhelmed with need. Mostly now I hear the fear in messages from my patients, but the patients who show up for appointments are intrepid and fearless. I spend time with reassurance and preventive messages. I can’t say I am not afraid for myself and for my family and loved ones. I am. But the numbers of survivors are much greater than the people who don’t. We have to remember that the patients who have died so far were pretty sick to begin with. There are still a lot of unknowns. I hope that we are slowing things down and that we are readying for the long haul.

That is why I was happy to read about another kind of epidemic- people being nice to each other. People reaching out. We must remember that many people will be worrying, not just about their health, but about their jobs and money. You all already know ways to help people. Keep it up. Reaching out to someone who is isolated can be lifesaving for them. And yes, social distancing is excellent for introverts, but still reach out. That is the best gift you can give to someone. As long as you are 6 feet away of course.

And wash your hands!

And finally, my caveat is that this is my experience and my opinions, which are subject to change as more information is available, and not related to the organization I work for. Thanks for reading.