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On Friday night, I worked a 12-hour shift in the designated COVID-19 area of my hospital’s emergency department in New York City. Over the course of the night, I examined six patients who were exhibiting common symptoms of the novel coronavirus; five of them were in their 20s or early 30s.
I am 28 years old. Up until Friday, when people asked me whether I was scared, I would tell them yes—for my country, my colleagues, my 92-year-old grandmother, and all the people most vulnerable to getting seriously ill from the virus, but not for myself. I, like many others, believed that young people were less likely to get sick, and that if they did, the illness was mild, with a quick recovery.
[Thomas Kirsch: What happens if health-care workers stop showing up?]
I now know that isn’t the case. The fact is that young people with no clear underlying health conditions are getting seriously ill from COVID-19 in significant numbers. And young Americans—no matter how healthy and invincible they feel—need to understand that.
My first patient was in their early 20s. (To protect their confidentiality, I’m referring to my patients without mentioning their gender.) They had a dry cough and a 102-degree fever, but their chest X-ray came back clear and their oxygen levels were safe. I wanted to test them for COVID-19, but they weren’t sick enough to require admission to the hospital, which meant I couldn’t do so. We desperately want to be able to test and take care of everyone, from the seriously ill to the mildly sick and worried, but with our current capacity, we simply can’t. I told them that they needed to assume they had the virus, and gave them instructions on how to quarantine at home.
I changed my gown and gloves, checked my mask and goggles, and moved on to my next patient: a student who had been coughing and feeling fatigued for multiple days. They had been with a friend before getting sick, and that friend had since fallen ill with symptoms of COVID-19, including a fever. The patient was having trouble catching their breath, but their symptoms were not severe or acute—as confirmed by a chest X-ray and a test of their oxygen levels—so I recommended discharge and quarantine, and they understood. …read more
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