My Brush With Coronavirus – Dr. Brown’s Story
Imagine staring down the barrel of a gun and the anguish you feel in those horrifying seconds as you await the squeeze of the trigger. This is what life is like as a physician during the coronavirus pandemic. My brush with the deadly virus came when I received a notification from the Ministry of Health Surveillance Unit. It could only mean one thing. I must be on the contact list of someone who tested positive for the virus. Public enemy number one is at my door, I thought. Terror gripped me. I felt faint, my knees buckled and I felt the room spinning. Health officials informed me that one of my patients of ten years had presented to a public healthcare facility two days earlier complaining of virus-like symptoms. Like many Bahamians, myself included, the patient in question had several non-communicable diseases, namely high blood pressure and diabetes. My mind drifted to the last time he had visited the office. That was two weeks ago. I tried to do a mental calculation of how many patients I had seen since then. Oh my God, I thought. I had seen more than one hundred patients since his visit. I suddenly felt a knot in my stomach. It’s the same feeling I had on the day of the September 11 terrorist attack in New York. I know the feeling all too well as I was living in New York at the time. The mere threat of having contracted the virus is now generating much of the same fear and anxiety in me. It turns out my patient was tested for coronavirus the day before and health officials wanted my staff members and I to be tested as well. I quickly agreed, trying to convey a sense of calm I was not feeling. I knew that more than 20 percent of confirmed cases were healthcare workers, hundreds of healthcare professionals have been quarantined and we lost an outstanding Bahamian physician who earned acclamation for both his medical and charitable works.
The Waiting Game
I advised my staff of the need for immediate testing. Having closed my practice until further notice, I headed home in a zombie-like state to inform my wife of the day’s events. Home… to hunker down for the next three days, wondering what fate awaits me. I wasn’t just concerned about my health but the health of all the patients I may have infected. Then there was my staff, my family - including my elderly mother - and countless others I may have come into contact with. The walls of my guest bedroom - turned isolation room - seemed to be closing in on me. The waiting period was taking a toll on me, physically and mentally. On the very first night I received a call from a physician encouraging me and letting me know that the whole fraternity was praying for me. The contact tracing of this magnitude would stretch the resources of the Ministry of Health Surveillance Team. Over 100 patients seen and God knows how many persons they would have interacted with. Did we have testing available in the country to deal with this?
The Results Are In
Three days after I took the test, the results were in. “Negative”. The test found no evidence that I had coronavirus. The fear and anxiety that had permeated every aspect of my life was finally over with that one word – Negative. My practice has since reopened, and although the fear has dissipated, this close encounter with COVID-19 has taught me that courage is not the absence of fear – it is doing what I was called to do - be a physician even when I’m terrified.
The New Normal
I’ve also learned that courage is not enough though. I have taken more precautions to keep my patients and my staff protected. When attending to patients, we ensure, no matter the urgency of the situation, that we are in protective gear and when removed, it is done so carefully so as to avoid contamination. We all have a civic responsibility to stop the spread of this terror – COVID-19. So please heed the warnings of medical experts - wash your hands regularly, practice social distancing, wear face masks when you leave home, obey emergency orders, and more importantly, STAY AT HOME!!