COVID-19 has created an environment rooted in fear. Worrying about getting sick, losing a loved one, or being unable to save a patient's life has become a daily fixture.
One of my co-residents, who is also a close friend, recently started to have symptoms. Initially they seemed to be manageable, but after a positive test result, they got much worse. Seeing him and others struggle with quarantine and their worsening clinical condition gave me a different perspective on the pandemic. As always, I never hesitated to support my friends while they continued to recuperate.
Two days later, I myself woke up with some mild head congestion. I went to work, putting it off as seasonal allergies, which I'm sure many of those reading this would have as well. As the day progressed, I noticed I was experiencing increasing fatigue. Then at lunch, I noticed that I could not taste as well. “Do I have it?” I kept asking myself. “If so, should I tell anyone?” For the sake of the greater good, I told my superior, who graciously told me to get tested and quarantine myself. As I was leaving the building that day, I made a greater effort to stay away from others so as not to infect them, but for the first time I also felt ashamed, as if I had failed everyone around me.
As I anxiously waited in isolation for the next 48 hours for the result, I hid what I was going through when I talked to my family. I did not want to bother them until I could tell them for sure. I did not want them to worry unnecessarily, and I knew that their unlimited affection for me would only create undue concern. It was not easy to lie to them, but I had to, just make sure to avoid hurting them more. Fortunately, I tested negative, and I returned to work immediately after I found out my result.
While this pandemic has been universally challenging, it has forced us to face our fears with persistent diligence and dedication not only to our patients, but to ourselves. I have seen firsthand many negative tests that ultimately proved to be incorrect, giving credence to the notion that some of us are propagating the virus when we should be quarantining. The fear we have in returning to work, due to lingering symptoms and the potential stigma from peers and patients, can be overwhelming.
Instead of ignoring this fear, we should finally accept it and address it. If we continue to remain in the dark, the fear of stigmatization will only worsen the fear of death and failure at the hands of this pandemic.