REPORT: NYC doc details distressing day: ‘I survived Ebola. I fear COVID-19’

MARCH 25, 2020

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A Manhattan doctor who survived Ebola posted a harrowing Twitter thread Tuesday detailing a day in his life as an ER physician amid the city’s coronavirus outbreak.

“You might hear people saying it isn’t bad. It is. You might hear people saying it can’t take you down. It can. I survived Ebola. I fear #COVID-19,” Dr. Craig Spencer, who works at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, tweeted.

The article goes on to state the following:

Dr. Spencer, 38, contracted Ebola in 2014 while volunteering with the group Doctors Without Borders in the West African country of Guinea.

In a Washington Post opinion piece, Dr. Spencer wrote:

Wake up at 6:30 a.m. Priority is making a big pot of coffee for the whole day, because the place by the hospital is closed. The Starbucks, too. It’s all closed. On the walk, it feels like Sunday. No one is out. Might be the freezing rain. Or it’s early. Regardless, that’s good.

Walk in for your 8 a.m. shift: Struck by how the calm of the early morning city streets is immediately transformed. The bright fluorescent lights of the ER reflect off everyone’s protective goggles. There is a cacophony of coughing. You stop. Mask up. Walk in.

You take sign-out from the previous team, but nearly every patient is the same, young and old: cough, shortness of breath, fever. 

He went on to describe his day and the symptoms of his patients. The piece included haunting recollections such as, “It’s best to put her on life support now, before things get much worse” and “two patients, in rooms right next to each other, both getting a breathing tube…it’s not even 10 a.m.”

He said that at one point in the day he might realize he hadn’t drunk water, as he’s “afraid to take off the mask.”

“Nearly everyone you see today is the same,” he wrote. “We assume everyone is infected. We wear gowns, goggles and masks at every encounter. All day.”

Dr. Spencer also detailed his concerns about the coronavirus outbreak in a series of tweets. He wrote:

“I have a really important message for you New York. Please share.

“Sadly I know a lot about disease-induced hysteria in NYC. This message is not to cause panic, but prevent it. 5 years ago, after treating patients in W Africa, I was diagnosed with Ebola & treated here in NYC.

“If you lived here, you remember the hysteria. You maybe made ‘E-bowl-ing’ jokes. It was intense for a bit…then it dissipated. #COVID19 WILL be different. Working on the frontlines in the ER, I want to share some thoughts about how to stay safe and protect others.

“Every one of us will be impacted. Maybe you read about ‘social distancing’ and don’t totally understand/agree why it applies to you. You may think it’s fine to go to bars/restaurants, cause you’re young and healthy. You hear it’s ‘just the flu’.

“But this is a big deal. We must stop the spread of the virus, and we all have a role.

“Every interaction – at large concert halls & small dinner tables too – is another opportunity to spread this virus. Even when we are being extra cautious, us humans are not perfect. Viruses spread. We can only slow this by limiting our exposures. So why is that so important?

“Even if the virus doesn’t hit you as hard (and there’s no guarantee it won’t – there’s been lots of young people put on life support), so many people around us are older, have weakened immune systems, or are more prone to infection. Limiting OUR exposures limits theirs too!

“I’m just leaving work in the ER. We already have #COVID19 cases. The # increases EVERY day. If they keep going at this rate, our system will be overwhelmed. We won’t have the space, personnel or supplies to provide the best care to our #coronavirus AND our regular patients.

“Our best hope right now is social distancing, or limiting our exposure to others. This slows how fast the virus moves in our communities, which decreases how many people get infected, which slows the spread of the virus, and so on…

“But if we continue going about our lives w/ no change, the rate of infections [going up]. More come to our hospitals. Our ERs get overwhelmed. Our intensive care units become full. Our providers are at greater risk. Our patients without #coronavirus get worse care (or none at all).

“Please limit your exposures – it will protect you, your co-workers, your neighbors, and your healthcare providers. The upcoming weeks and months will be a struggle, but we will get past this. I promise. And then we will bottomless brunch.”

He went on to thank supporters in a follow-up tweet:

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