Over the last three years, we have faced the original COVID-19, followed by Omicron, Delta, and monkeypox.
It is apropos that on the third anniversary of COVID-19, we are facing the tripledemic of COVID, influenza, and RSV.
After almost three years of not getting COVID-19, I started believing that my childhood fantasies about me being superman were true and that my immune system was superpowered with bullet-proof antibodies that would keep me safe.
Over the weekend, I was diagnosed with COVID-19.
First, I was in denial. “It’s just a cold,” I said. My husband insisted on me getting tested. I kept refusing. Finally, he inserted the testing swabs into my nostrils when I was too tired to resist. The test immediately turned positive – unlike the pregnancy tests from years ago when we were going through IVF.
Then, I was angry. “How can this be?” “This is the worst timing!” “I have to fly to Atlanta tomorrow.” “Who gave this to me?”
That is when the bargaining kicked in. “What or whom could I have avoided?” I started thinking about all my interactions. Like a game of Clue, I started ruling in and ruling out possible suspects who could have been guilty of infecting me. I reviewed all my in-person interactions. I jotted down the names of people who had runny noses or had coughed in my presence. I eliminated most of the people on my list except for one.
- Who did it? The taxi driver.
- What was the weapon used? COVID-19.
- Where did they do it? Inside the taxicab.
On a recent taxi ride, I heard the driver cough as soon as I approached the taxi. For a brief second, I considered asking for another cab, but then I felt guilty about hurting his feelings, so I entered his car.
I kept my mask on. He did not.
He kept coughing during the 30-minute ride. Every time he coughed, I held my breath, almost to the point of suffocation.
The truth is that I don’t know how I got COVID-19, but like many others who had COVID-19, trying to guess how you got it is a mental coping mechanism that somehow gives you a level of control.
After bargaining, I started feeling guilty about the possibility of exposing my family to COVID-19. I insisted on getting a hotel room but finally decided to isolate myself in one bedroom of our house.
What is troubling to me is that I avoided seeking medical care despite being a physician. I didn’t want to send an email to my PCP because I know how challenging it is for PCPs to receive hundreds of messages from their large panel of patients. I also did not want to ask my physician friends for advice because I am not a big fan of “curbside consult.”
My only worry was getting better so I could go back to work. I was concerned about all my patients that would need to be rescheduled. I was worried about all the emails and in-basket messages I could not respond to promptly.
Finally, when a physician colleague called to check on me, he made me promise to reach out to another physician colleague for an official consultation. He noticed my shortness of breath and asked me to make the call immediately. It was 8 p.m. I thought it was too late to bother another physician, so I promised to make the call the following day. I am happy that I finally gave in.
I realize now that I was refusing to be a patient. Like many other physicians, it is tough to accept that sometimes I also need medical care. It is hard for many of us to prioritize our wellness. Even worse, when seeking care for mental health, we also face stigma and shame.
My career and my patients are essential to me. However, this week I was humbled and learned a lesson.
I need to focus on my wellness first.
For now, I plan to avoid taxis. What do you recommend, Uber or Lyft?
Alen Voskanian is a palliative care physician.