Stories from the Stethoscope: January 2021

Read the January 2021 edition of Dr. Powell’s monthly column: Stories from the Stethoscope.

November of 2020 started off well. I was going to the gym 4 days a week, eating a mostly vegan diet, and looking forward to the upcoming holiday season. I thought I would be able to taste a bit of the normalcy we have all been craving. The Saturday after Thanksgiving we put our masks on and helped my developmentally disabled brother-in-law move into a new apartment. The twelve family members loaded and unloaded all his stuff into a beautiful apartment. Once we were done, we took a break, enjoyed some pizza, and sat down together to eat and laugh. Unfortunately, the next day we found out one of the family members developed symptoms that night and on Sunday had a positive COVID-19 test.

My first reaction to being required to quarantine was an annoyance. I have so much to do. This will be so inconvenient. I am 50 years old, healthy, and on no medications. I just want this over with. On the fourth day of the quarantine 4 of my household members became positive. By the 6th day despite separating eating areas, bathrooms, etc. … we were all positive.

In the beginning, the symptoms seemed mild and I was almost excited that I was going to get through this without much effort. That changed quickly. The chills, body aches, headaches, and fatigue wrapped my body like a cocoon. Tylenol and Aleve barely helped any of my symptoms. I had a fever for 10 days. The mental drain was greater than I thought. Usually, when you are sick or you injure yourself, you can sense your body slowly getting better each day. It makes it easier to see the light at the end of the tunnel. COVID-19 does not follow these rules. I never knew when this torture was going to end. Finally, the fever stopped. This allowed me to understand all the other symptoms I was dealing with. Loss of appetite, energy and concentration took me by storm. I needed to nap 2-3 times a day. I could read a quick email or talk for 15 minutes but, my brain would not let me do anymore. The curtain of the mental fatigue and confusion became scarier than the horror of the first 10 days of the illness.

Slowly you can do more. But just like the initial symptoms you go backward and feel worse for a few days. You begin to question your own mortality. I started the month proud of how my family was doing mentally and everyone was succeeding with work and school during the pandemic. By the end of December, I felt more vulnerable than I ever have in my life.

As I write this, I am 30 days from my first symptoms. I feel 90% back to normal. I can now walk a few miles and not become exhausted and I can read longer articles and retain almost all the details. I share this story because, despite all these obstacles, I feel lucky.

My staff stepped up and took over for me and allowed me to rest. Friends and family offered support and brought us groceries and allowed us time to heal. I was with family and had the opportunity to share my emotions during this process. I live in a house with heat, electricity, and multiple rooms that allowed me to rest in comfort and quiet.

Yet the towns that our health centers are located have large numbers of individuals that are not so lucky. It is more obvious than ever before that we need to do more for them. The zip code you live in should not dictate your health. Our organization has already committed to increasing its efforts to look at the overall wellness of those we serve. I have renewed interest to ensure we do this. We need concrete workflows for our community so that we can have an impact on the social determinants of health.

I believe the experts that January will be worse for many on Long Island. I hope our health centers can have a positive impact on reducing the burden this pandemic has placed on ourselves and our communities. I also hope you will help support our efforts. We need to be ready to help. We also need to be ready to think outside the box when we consider the opportunities to help others.

As 2021 begins I wish you all a safe journey. Please take care of yourselves but also continue to open your eyes and ears to those around you. I look forward to continuing to face this journey with you.

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