From the Frontlines: Thoughts From a Pulmonary and Critical Care Physician During Quarantine
I’m writing this as I sit in my home office on day five of quarantine after a brief unprotected exposure to a COVID-19 positive patient which occurred at my hospital. At the time I was with them the patient had no respiratory symptoms and my visit was brief suggesting my risk of becoming infected is minimal and thus far I remain asymptomatic. As half of my professional time is spent in the hospital and much of that in the intensive care unit (ICU), my wife and I had already discussed me quarantining myself when the outbreak reached my area of Connecticut. My youngest daughter has a rare disease which could increase her risk if she were to develop COVID-19, so we were hyperaware of the risks.
In my week at work prior to the exposure, I had changed from professional dress back to scrubs. I would return from work each night, strip down in our separate mudroom, bag my clothes, put on a robe and head straight to my decontamination shower. I called my wife from work the night I was exposed and had her fully set up quarantine in our guest bedroom. I consider myself quite fortunate. The guest room has a separate entrance and is 3 feet away from my home office which I have also commandeered. I wear gloves and a mask whenever I transit between the two rooms. We have leveraged technology to allow communication with intercoms and I have multiple ways to get on line and be productive and social while physically distant.
I thought that during my time in quarantine, I might catch up on reading or clean some of the clutter which is present in my smaller quarters. I have found, as I suspect many of you have, that the COVID-19 news and social media cycle is not conducive to reading or cleaning. I rotate between email, social media, my Twitter feed, and professional information – and then repeat the cycle. I have set up a webcam and now can conduct media interviews and zoom social gatherings with old friends. Today I did my first telehealth video visit. Mainly I find that the morning quickly turns to afternoon and the afternoon to evening while I get exhausted by the psychological stress of living alone in a pandemic.
I started sharing my concerns about our response to this epidemic publicly on social media. I am not the first or loudest voice, but as the disease neared my area of the country, I witnessed the confusing public messaging and began hearing of our own local challenges with limited testing and supplies. It soon became clear that physical social distancing would be our best hope to avoid overwhelming the healthcare system and that that message needed amplification. Each day I posted about work and COVID-19 with a call for social distancing. I discussed aspects of COVID-19 ranging from staffing challenges, testing shortages, and shortages of masks and ventilators. I have written with concern about implausible medical therapies promoted in viral messaging and unproven therapies being widely touted.
As the disease has exploded 90 miles away in New York and reports of limited healthcare system capabilities have occurred, my concerns and calls for a coordinated response have grown louder. From behind my walls our need is clear. We need a massive national production effort similar to the ramp in production during World War II to get this epidemic controlled. We need to listen to the scientists. We need the general public of all ages everywhere in this country to follow the same message I have been broadcasting for weeks: Stay home. Stay healthy. Save lives.
Dr. Hill is a member of the Lung Association's National Board of Directors and is the immediate past chair of the Northeast Regional Board of the American Lung Association. He serves on the Leadership Board of the American Lung Association in Connecticut and is a former chair of that board. Read More.
Blog last updated: May 22, 2020