On the front cover of the 2020 March issue, Psychiatric Times[TM] featured the story, "The New Game of Microbiology Clue: The Who, When, Where, & Why of the Novel Coronavirus." When Nidal Moukaddam, MD, and Asim Shah, MD, began writing the story in January 2020, most of the public (and even much of the health care industry) knew very little of the virus that was devastating Wuhan and other parts of China. It seemed worlds away from our safe haven in the United States. By the time the issue arrived in our mailboxes, the country was on lockdown thanks to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
Approximately 83 million people have been infected by COVID-19 and 1.8 million souls worldwide were lost, according to The New York Times and several other news outlets. In 2020, the United States alone saw approximately 19 million cases of individuals infected with COVID-19 and around 350,000 deaths. The highest single-day death toll in the United States occurred on December 30, 2020, on which 3808 individuals died. (1-3) The closest the country has ever come to that astonishing number was September 16, 1928, when about 3000 individuals died from the Okeechobee hurricane. (4) Figure 1 puts the death toll in further perspective, by comparing death rates from other events.
Lessons Learned From My Recovery
I, too, became a part of these statistics--contracting COVID-19 in March 2020. After my hospitalization, (5) I still had residual symptoms, including shortness of breath, fatigue, and decreased exercise tolerance. I was concerned that I would not be able to work and about the effect this would have on my patients. I wondered when--if--I would be able to work at the same pre-COVID-19 level of intensity. Would my symptoms be lifelong? Like so many Americans, I worried about the potential financial strain.
I knew that if I was to get back to being a psychiatrist, I needed to get my shortness of breath and fatigue under better control. To help improve my lung function, strengthen my exercise tolerance, and for my own mental health, I went for progressively longer walks with my French bulldog, Principe Azul. Gradually, my shortness of breath improved, but not to the point where I felt able to work onsite at the hospital.
Fortunately, I was offered the opportunity to work remotely. Not only was this my first time working in the realm of telepsychiatry, but I was the test pilot for my department. Suffice to say there was a learning curve, but I already had an interest in this area of psychiatry. Although I was not fully recovered, I improved enough to see my patients virtually. I believe work has multiple therapeutic benefits and is part of who I am.
My journey has been filled with one small step followed by another, each heading in the right direction. To date I continue to experience shortness of breath, chest tightness, periodic fatigue, and decreased exercise tolerance. My recovery has been a process, and the same will be true...