Before getting dressed for work this morning, I stood in my kitchen, marveling at the ice crystals, or “tree diamonds,” as my mother calls them, from the window above the sink. As I waited for the coffee to brew, I scrolled through the text messages sent to my phone overnight until I saw my friend’s forwarded news link: “Doctors suspect COVID delayed immune response in young surgeon’s death.” I clicked the link and saw the photograph—a familiar and kind face. I felt sick.
I met Dr. Williams during an emergency two years ago when my sister had fallen and broken her wrist. She was in agony. I called an orthopedic surgeon I admire and work with, and he referred me to Dr. Williams. “He’s an orthopod with a fellowship from Harvard in hand specialty. He’s the one you want,” my friend told me. With one quick call to his office, Dr. Williams made time for my sister in his already full schedule. He saw her within thirty minutes of her fall.
He took X-rays and returned with the news I knew was inevitable. Surgery was scheduled for the following morning. He had a quiet patience to him that was the polar opposite of us. He was reassuring, confident, and above all, understanding. He knew we were surprised, upset, and worried about this sudden (and possibly life-altering) injury. He did everything an empathetic doctor should do. He sat. He explained. He waited for us to stop bickering — times of stress can create discord in families, we all know — and he braced us for what to expect. I knew we were lucky to have him and told him so.
After the surgery, when my sister was still awakening from anesthesia, Dr. Williams found me in the waiting room. He crouched by me and showed me the X-rays from the surgery, pointing to the plates and screws he’d used to realign her bones. “It was a bad break,” he’d said. I put my hand over his and thanked him. I vividly recall his kind eyes and humble nod.
For the past year, I’ve been processing patients’ deaths to this cruel, unflinching disease. I have done my best to educate the public about prevention (staying home, masking up, washing hands, keeping social distance) and sounding the alarm on how horrific COVID is. But I was utterly unprepared for the death of a fellow doctor.
A young man whose road I know, a parallel road I have traveled on, only in a different specialty. I know how hard he worked as he sacrificed fifteen years of his youth: undergraduate, medical school, residency, and fellowship. He was now in private practice, doing what he’d learned and doing so with compassion.
He was a newlywed and able to appreciate time off with his wife and his friends and family. I recall that period in my life, finally done with all the school and board certifications, finally enjoying my life entirely. And my heart breaks for him. As if with a snap of the fingers, COVID-19 took him. May his family know how much he meant to mine.
Shira Shiloah is an anesthesiologist and can be reached on Twitter @ShiraShiloahMD. She can be reached at her self-titled site, Shira Shiloah, MD.
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