“I have COVID.”
The text message hit me like a gut punch. After 18 months the pandemic had now touched someone I loved. My brother had COVID.
My brother is unvaccinated. He is also high risk. I’d been asking him to get vaccinated for months. I’d shared stories with him about doing CPR on a patient our age and having to room awake patients next to ones that were on ventilators because the ICUs were overflowing. Even hearing the horrors of what this virus was doing from me, his best friend, wasn’t enough to press upon him the urgency of vaccination.
Being surrounded by the sickest COVID patients has made me fear this disease. Young, healthy people will go from being mildly symptomatic to being on a ventilator in 24 hours. I was terrified my brother could be one of those patients. And I felt helpless. That’s one of the worst parts about this disease as a physician. You can do everything you know to do to fight it and your patient still gets worse. You’re left telling the families, “we’re doing everything we can but he’s still getting worse.”
Two days before his diagnosis, I had taken to Twitter in a moment of despair and posted about how bad things had become during this COVID surge. At that time, my hospital was opening a new COVID unit every three days. Nearly all of our patients were unvaccinated. I struggled to find the strength for yet another surge, one I felt didn’t have to happen. My post went viral, and as a result, STAT News reached out to me and asked me to elaborate on my experience with their platform. My article circulated through my hospital, and many people stopped me in the hallway to tell me how much they appreciated what I had written.
Amidst this burst of attention, I was waiting in fear of whether my brother would worsen. Thankfully, he is now 14 days from his symptom onset and doing well.
It feels like a personal failure to have been on the frontlines fighting this disease for a year and a half, to have become a public voice for vaccination, only to have my family members get sick months after a safe and effective vaccine became available.
I don’t know how to reconcile the two parts of myself, the hospitalist on the COVID unit caring for the critically ill unvaccinated and the sister and daughter of a vaccine-hesitant family.