A physician's plea: Stay vigilant to stop another COVID-19 crisis

A physician’s plea: Stay vigilant to stop another COVID-19 crisis

"Last week, I was on call and it felt like the beginning of March again," physician Asha Shajahan says.

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March, April and May are still somewhat of a blur. I was working both in inpatient and outpatient care and all I saw was COVID-19.

June came and things were better. Because of a significant drop in COVID-19 patient numbers, I was, thankfully, no longer needed to work in the hospital. The outpatient clinic was back to regular physicals and the usual ailments of diabetes and hypertension.  

I had adjusted to wearing a face mask out in public and all day in the office. I enjoyed my days off with nature hiking, biking and walking. I was cooking my own meals, rather than going out. I still felt anxious each time the news discussed Florida, Texas and Arizona, where infection numbers are soaring, but I thought to myself, “We are past this and things are getting better.” 

I may have been wrong.

Last week, I was on call and it felt like the beginning of March again. Every call was about COVID-19-like symptoms — fevers, body aches, shortness of breath. The difference was, this time there was a protocol. I knew where to send my patients for testing. Patients understood the term quarantine. But the fear and anxiety in my patients’ voices were the same. I wonder if this resurgence of cases could have been avoided. Are Michiganders are getting too lax on social distancing and mask-wearing recommendations? One of my patients seemed to think so. 

She presented with fevers, chills, and body aches. She said she had a headache and felt fatigued. “I’ve been wearing a mask to the grocery store and working from home,” she told me. Then she admitted a week ago she went to her niece’s birthday party. “Nobody was wearing a mask and I realize now how stupid that was,” she said, regret in her voice.  

Another patient, an immunocompromised woman, mentioned how happy she had been to go to a wedding with 50 people in attendance. But after experiencing a fever of 102˚F and being hospitalized for five days, she changed her mind: “It’s just not worth it.”

One of my patients lost three family members in April to COVID-19. “It seems like a huge inconvenience until the wrath of COVID-19 happens to you,” he told me. 

I went to a backyard gathering of less than 10 people and was shocked when a friend tried to give me a hug. I quickly put my elbow out for an elbow bump. “Oh, come on!” she said. “You’re probably already infected.”

That’s the naive attitude that spreads the infection. We have to remember, it’s not only about us as individuals, but about the people we come into contact with.

With death rates decreasing, it’s easy to forget that COVID-19 is still around in Michigan. If it feels as if we moved in the right direction, that’s only because we did well as a state to follow scientific guidelines of social distancing, mask wearing, hand washing, testing and avoiding large public gatherings.

After this last week – after call after call — my radar is back up. We can’t be defeated after doing well for so long. I’m hopeful that this rise in cases is just a small spike following re-openings and the holiday weekend. I’m crossing my fingers that we won’t be back to where we were in March; I don’t want to relive that period of time when I saw so much death. Let’s hope Michiganders will continue taking care of each other and Michigan stays vigilant to serve as an example to other states. 

The anxious voice of regret from my patient rings in my ears. I’ll never forget the faces of the people who were sick in the hospital, many of whom lost their lives. My patients are right. Let’s not live in regret. Be cautious: wear a mask, social distance and wash your hands. These precautions save lives. 

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