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When I Found Out My Psychiatrist Died of COVID-19

The Mighty logo The Mighty 9/24/2020 Roxanne Kang
a close up of a mountain: Closeup sad young woman with a rainy cloud above the head. © The Mighty Closeup sad young woman with a rainy cloud above the head.

My psychiatrist died at the end of April.

Today, I called my clinic to schedule an appointment with him. I phoned the office and the man on the other end of the line told me, “I’m sorry, but Dr. Chen has passed away from the virus.” That wasn’t the response I was expecting and I was taken aback. I was so numb the only thing I could say was, “Oh my god!”

After the phone call, I felt so shaken up. I didn’t know what to do. I ended up taking a long walk and going to two bakeries, buying a bag of pastries and eating half of it miserably at home. I was supposed to do Spanish homework and be productive, but I couldn’t concentrate. I ended up crying on and off throughout the day. And this is coming from someone who rarely cries.

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On the one hand, I feel a little embarrassed by how much this is affecting me. But on the other hand, I know how much Dr. Chen has meant for my life. You see, I’ve dealt with bipolar disorder since my teenage years. I was mostly depressed as a 15-year-old and then through my 20s. At the time I was going through emotional turmoil, I didn’t know what it was. I thought it was just depression, but nothing they tried on me worked. At my lowest point, I was suicidal and could barely pass classes or even hold down a job.

In my journey with mental illness, I was misdiagnosed for years. At some point, one of my old therapists, Diane, figured out that I might be bipolar. Other mental health professionals diagnosed me with that illness, but it wasn’t until I became a patient of Dr. Chen’s that I started to feel as if I was heard. He knew that bipolar was ravaging my life and he helped to stabilize my moods while also being encouraging. He was one of the people who helped me get on the right medication at the right dose to attack the madness that was going on inside my brain. He always started our sessions by asking how I was and how I was doing and he meant it. I have been treated by many other doctors and health professionals over the years, but many just see me as just another patient who they spend a few minutes with, prescribe some medication and send on my way. I didn’t feel that way with Dr. Chen. I felt like I was understood.

Dr. Chen and I had a long running doctor-patient relationship. It lasted for about five years, and we usually met up once a month. I showed up to almost every appointment, and we hardly ever missed each other, except for when vacations interfered or when one of us was sick or unavailable for some reason. He watched me evolve from someone who was severely depressed and a complete mess to someone who could function well at work and at home. He saw me go from suicidal to someone with goals and a vision of what life could be.

In all of our sessions together, I never asked Dr. Chen about his personal life. I never really knew what he was like outside the clinical setting. I never really said that I was thankful for his role in my recovery.

Dr. Chen wasn’t just my doctor, but someone who was able to steer me towards hope with compassion, which is an attribute most medical professionals should learn from.


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