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NYC doc details harrowing day in local ER: ‘I survived Ebola. I fear COVID-19’

New York Daily News logo New York Daily News 5 days ago Nancy Dillon
a tall building in a city © Ben Hider

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.

He said his day starts at 6:30 a.m., when he wakes up, makes a giant pot of coffee and heads to work in eerily deserted streets. He walks in to begin his shift at 8 a.m.

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“Immediately 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,” he tweeted.

“You take sign-out from the previous team, but nearly every patient is the same, young & old: Cough, shortness of breath, fever. They are really worried about one patient. Very short of breath, on the maximum amount of oxygen we can give, but still breathing fast,” he wrote.

“You immediately assess this patient. It’s clear what this is, and what needs to happen. You have a long and honest discussion with the patient and family over the phone. It’s best to put her on life support now, before things get much worse,” he wrote.

“You’re notified of another really sick patient coming in. You rush over. They’re also extremely sick, vomiting. They need to be put on life support as well. You bring them back. Two patients, in rooms right next to each other, both getting a breathing tube. It’s not even 10am yet,” he tweeted.

“For the rest of your shift, nearly every hour, you get paged: Stat notification: Very sick patient, short of breath, fever. Oxygen 88%. Stat notification: Low blood pressure, short of breath, low oxygen. Stat notification: Low oxygen, can't breathe. Fever. All day...” he wrote.

“Sometime in the afternoon you recognize you haven’t drank any water. You’re afraid to take off the mask. It’s the only thing that protects you. Surely you can last a little longer," he tweeted. “In West Africa during Ebola, you spent hours in a hot suit without water. One more patient.”

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

He was rushed to Bellevue in a protective suit by FDNY EMS and was quarantined in one of the hospital isolation units until he recovered.

Now on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic, he said just taking his lunch break now is a radically different routine.

“By late afternoon, you need to eat. Restaurant across the street is closed. Right, everything is closed. But thankfully the hospital cafeteria is open. You grab something, wash your hands (twice), cautiously take off your mask, & eat as fast as you can. Go back. Mask up. Walk in,” he continued in his Twitter thread.

“Nearly everyone you see today is the same. We assume everyone is #COVIDー19. We wear gowns, goggles, and masks at every encounter. All day. It’s the only way to be safe. Where did all the heart attacks and appendicitis patients go? Its all COVID,” he tweeted.

“Before you leave, you wipe EVERYTHING down. Your phone. Your badge. Your wallet. Your coffee mug. All of it. Drown it in bleach. Everything in a bag. Take no chances. Sure you got it all??? Wipe is down again. Can’t be too careful,” he said.

“You walk out and take off your mask. You feel naked and exposed. It’s still raining, but you want to walk home. Feels safer than the subway or bus, plus you need to decompress. The streets are empty. This feels nothing like what is happening inside. Maybe people don't know???” he pondered.

“You get home. You strip in the hallway – it’s ok, your neighbors know what you do. Everything in a bag. Your wife tries to keep your toddler away, but she hasn't seen you in days, so it's really hard. Run to the shower. Rinse it all away. Never happier. Time for family,” he tweeted.

“You reflect on the fact that it’s really hard to understand how bad this is - and how bad it’s going to be - if all you see are empty streets. Hospitals are nearing capacity. We are running out of ventilators. Ambulance sirens don’t stop,” he said.

“Everyone we see today was infected a week ago, or more. The numbers will undoubtedly skyrocket overnight, as they have every night the past few days. More will come to the ER. More will be stat notifications. More will be put on a ventilator,” he said.

“We were too late to stop this virus. Full stop. But we can slow its spread. The virus can’t infect those it never meets. Stay inside. Social distancing is the only thing that will save us now. I don’t care as much about the economic impact as I do about our ability to save lives,” he said.

“Do your part. Stay home. Stay safe. And every day I’ll come to work for you,” he tweeted in the thread that garnered 70,000 likes in a matter of hours.

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