Rip Van Winkle: My COVID-19 SurpriseF. Amos Bailey, MD Apr 28, 2020
I was alarmed in late January and February as I started to see the news from China. A great city on lock down and then a country with a medical system that was overrun. Could this happen here? I was concerned. I had learned about the Spanish Flu of 1918-1920. This was a once in a century catastrophe and it had been a century.
I took the unusual step of alerting my family of my concerns. Never, a “prepper” I shared my concern that we needed to be ready for a month in quarantine, take steps to protect Granny, who would be considered at high risk. Palliative Care has taught me to “hope for the best; prepare for the worse”. I even developed a plan to move into the pop-up travel trailer, in our backyard when I started to go to work at the hospital so as not to bring the virus in with me.
The first week in March we had our last weekly dinner at Granny’s apartment. Four generations gathering weekly to share food and our lives with each other. I didn’t know if it would be safe for me to visit after working at the hospital or for the toddler after going to day care so we decided to err on the side of safety.
I had a day off that first Friday in March, and went skiing at Breckenridge. While at the resort that day I got a news alert that skiers in Summit County had COVID-19, but I was already there. On March 10th, while at work, I started to feel sick and finished up at 1 PM. The next day I had fever, body aches, cough and was extremely tired. My wife started to feel bad as well. We both noticed we could not smell or taste anything and that is was hard to eat and drink when you have no desire. Could this be COVID-19? It really seemed unlikely. We both continued to struggle and by the next Monday I took my wife to see her Primary Care Provider. They tested her for flu which was negative. “It could be COVID 19”, they said. I called Employee Health and they arranged for me to be screened on March 17th in a drive through testing site. On March 20th the Health Department called me. I had COVID-19. “Who might I have spread this to?” they asked. Probably my wife, and co-workers that I had spent time with at the office the day I became sick. At least one has tested positive for COVID-19 and the others are presumed because although sick they were not eligible for testing with such limited test supplies.
It took four weeks for my wife and I to recover. As we got better, we began to research the symptoms and between the two of us we had all of them. We didn’t have to go to the hospital. However if we had not been together to care for each other, we might have needed to.
Like Rip Van Winkle, I feel like I woke up in a different world. I didn’t appreciate the severity of what was going on around the world and the US. When I did, I was horrified and terrified. We could have needed to go the hospital. I was still coughing and short of breath. Finally, Employee Health released me to return to work.
In the month since I had been to work, the hospital had changed dramatically. In early March, there were no COVID-19 patients and now multiple teams and ICU’s were devoted to COVID-19. Emergency plans were constantly being developed. Every day, we would see two or three new patients, mostly in the ICU, and facilitate family meeting on video connections since no visitors were allowed in the hospital. There were none of the our usually Palliative Care Consults to support patients and families with cancer or other serious disease. The changes in just a month’s time wer stunning and overwhelming.
The good news, we are all doing better. Granny and older family in Florida are safe, for the time being. I don’t have to stay in the trailer because I am now considered to be immune. Today I will donate my plasma in the hopes that my antibodies against COVID-19 can help others. However, we have woken up in a different world, one that won’t go back to normal, at least for a couple of years. Also, a world in which the comfort and skills of the Palliative Care Team are needed more than ever.
Our MS in Palliative Care and Interprofessional Palliative Care Graduate Certificate Program had been primarily on-line but when I recovered, I realized our team was already working together to convert the on-campus intensive to an on-line intensive for our summer semester.
The University of Colorado, Anschutz Medical Campus Palliative Care Education programs are open for business. Join us now.