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POV: What Happens When an EP Gets COVID-19?


COVID-19, EP life, vaccination

Positive. Certainly not. I tested positive. I had woken up that day with a little congestion, but otherwise felt fine. I had poured a cup of coffee before leaving the house that morning, and thought my wife must have made the pot; she uses one spoon and I use two. I could barely taste it. But I still worked my shift without difficulty. I felt really good.

I went to the cafeteria for lunch and asked for some extra spice on my taco salad. The staff warned me that the salsa was hot that day. I put in three scoops instead of the usual—still no taste. It was starting to dawn on me. I only had about an hour left on my shift, so I decided to finish. I went to a grocery store after my shift, bought a test kit, and swabbed my nose. Positive.

I had so many emotions. The first was guilt. How could I continue to work knowing that I could have COVID? How many patients and colleagues did I put at risk? I tried to tell myself that it was fine because I wore an N95 mask and gloves every encounter and the risk was low, but the guilt lingered. After that, I felt fear. We have two children under 5 who cannot be vaccinated yet. Our youngest was born with a cleft palate and recently had surgery to correct it. He also suffers from asthma and usually ends up in the PICU with the slightest cough and cold. If he caught COVID, he surely wouldn’t be well.

Finally, I felt anger. I couldn’t help but be mad at all the COVID patients I had seen who had chosen not to be vaccinated. How many patients have I intubated in the last week? I called my wife. What to do now? Anyway, I was staying at a hotel for these shifts that were away from home, so that was sorted. I called work and told them I would have to leave the schedule for 10 days.

My wife emailed our daycare and also took our kids out for 10 days. She also notified her work and told them she would be away. Finally, I booked another hotel closer to home for three more days; the plan was for my wife to test our children and herself after three days. If they were still negative, I would extend the hotel stay by 10 days. If they were positive, I would go home.

Fortunately, my wife and our children remained negative. I was video chatting with my kids every two hours. Our eldest kept asking me when I was coming home, and it broke my heart every time. I missed them so much. I kept telling myself that it could be worse; I was grateful that I was already in a hotel when my symptoms started. My wife and children are healthy. I also appreciated being able to retreat to a hotel for 10 days as I know many families don’t have that luxury.

Time alone has forced me to think about how I approach COVID patients. I readily admit that I have compassion fatigue; it has been difficult to care for unvaccinated patients. If only they had gotten the shot, if only they had gotten the booster, or if only they hadn’t gone to that party. It was surely their fault. Speaking with my colleagues, I know that I am not the only one in this case. Some people have decided to turn a blind eye to science, but they rush to the emergency room for help when they get sick. Suddenly, science must save them. And many get angry when asked why they weren’t vaccinated.

Yet we do our best to take care of them. It’s our job. We care for everyone, regardless of what brought them to the emergency room, regardless of race, gender, religion, and now whether they have chosen to be vaccinated. Many leave the profession. We’ve had such a turnover of nurses, PAs and doctors, more now than ever before, so I know I’m not alone in this compassion fatigue.

This disease has changed my perspective considerably. I still have compassion fatigue and I still get frustrated when people tell me they chose not to be vaccinated against COVID. But I’m more open to discussing this issue. I did everything I was supposed to do: I was fully vaccinated and received a booster shot less than three months before I contracted the virus.

I shouldn’t have gotten sick, but sometimes people just can’t control what happens. I will continue to care for every patient that comes through the door. I hope this experience has changed me for the better. At the very least, I’ve seen every movie available on Netflix. And that’s a lot.

Dr Adleris an emergency physician in Denver and a contributor to the Physician Grind (, created by Zahir Basrai, MD. Connect with Dr. Basrai and the Physician Grind at on Twitter@numosemed.