COMMENTARY

COVID fatigue is setting in


 

The slow-moving game of viral roulette is wearing on everyone. Eventually, we may all become fatigued and say, “well, let’s just take our chances,” the isolation being worse than the disease. I must say, however, the sight of the local funeral director loading lumber into his van at the hardware store last week made me snug up my mask a bit. We have had a surge of COVID-19 deaths in local nursing homes and I heard refrigerated space is tight. Who knows, though, maybe he just needed more shelf space in his garage.

Dr. Brett M. Coldiron, a dermatologist and Mohs surgeon in Cincinnati.

Dr. Brett M. Coldiron

The most exasperating thing is not knowing who has had the virus and who hasn’t, and what medicine might or might not work. My son, quartered in the sardine-tin bunks of an aircraft carrier has “it,” as do all his mates, is in total isolation except for fever checks once a day, and is having a tough time. His eagerness to receive our phone calls was sweet at first, but is now starting to worry me. Today, I received a letter from him, which I dutifully steam-microwaved for 5 minutes and am letting dry in the sun. He is asymptomatic by the way. This was not the case for one of my buddies in New York. He suffered through 10 days of shaking chills so bad he thought he had chipped his teeth, and weeks later he still has no sense of smell.

My practice has been completely disrupted, but we are open a couple of days a week. I have kept all my employees, doing busy things mostly. There will be long hours for everyone because of widely spaced appointments and a certain amount of friction with patients who miss appointments. My fellow is going to take a long trip in July. Who knows when he will have a month off again? I wonder where he plans to go.

We have rearranged the waiting room furniture, so everyone is 6 feet apart, though I am not confident this makes a difference. We all have masks, and use alcohol gel before and after patient encounters, and spritz all fixtures and handles with alcohol after encounters. I have a large exhaust fan in the lab that creates a negative pressure gradient in the office. Somehow, I don’t think it is quite the same as in the hospital.

One slick trick we’ve enacted is running an ozone generator in the office at night, which will kill all things on all surfaces and in the air. It also is probably eroding the insides of my computers, but hey, the insects and burglars hate it too.

We heard the fighter jets fly over today saluting the frontline health care workers, but did not go out and wave. We are taking care of skin cancers, and while my patients might have COVID, they do not have a fever or cough, and are not supposed to come in if they do. I feel a little guilt about this. Treating cancer is important, but we are not in the ICU or ED immersed in virus. That is who the jets are for.

My daughter, a high school senior, is taking the loss of graduation, prom, and pomp and circumstance quite well. I am relieved I don’t have to worry about the after-prom parties. She is gearing up for college, I just hope they allow classes to start.

The future is cloudy and uncertain, despite this beautiful spring day as I write this column. Surely the way we practice medicine is going to change, and for a long while. I am thinking of taking a part-time job out of town for a year or so, and my wife is considering closing her practice altogether. If we were a few years older, there is little doubt we would just move it down the line and retire.

Dr. Coldiron is in private practice but maintains a clinical assistant professorship at the University of Cincinnati. He cares for patients, teaches medical students and residents, and has several active clinical research projects. Dr. Coldiron is the author of more than 80 scientific letters, papers, and several book chapters, and he speaks frequently on a variety of topics. He is a past president of the American Academy of Dermatology. He has no disclosures. Write to him at [email protected].

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