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I Am an ICU Doctor and This One Thing Scares Me The Most

“I have never treated patients who were that sick,” says this Yale doctor.  

"This is the greatest public health challenge I have seen in my lifetime. I was in medical school during the AIDS epidemic, and COVID-19 has proven to be much worse." 

Those are the words of Yale New Haven Hospital Pediatrician Kirsten Bechtel, regarding the COVID-19 global pandemic. Bechtel is certainly qualified to talk about the coronavirus. Aside from having 24 years of physician experience, Bechtel spent a week at Yale's Intensive Care Unit treating COVID-19 patients. "I have never treated patients who were that sick," she says. 

The main thing Bechtel wants people to know about COVID-19 is that it differs from many known illnesses. "It is not the flu," she states, "It is much more dangerous."

Bechtel is correct. According to the Central Disease Control, or the CDC, COVID-19, also known as novel coronavirus, is "a new coronavirus that has not previously been identified." The CDC's website highlights the differences between COVID-19 and other known diseases, like the common cold, and the flu. "It's very unique," Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in an interview with Medscape. "I've never seen a pathogen, and in this case a virus, with such an amazing spectrum of disease severity."

The Three Ws

Bechtel is urging people to wash their hands, wear masks whenever they need to leave their homes, and to watch their distance by staying six feet apart from others. She refers to this as "The Three Ws." Bechtel states that this method is not only the best way to stop the spread of COVID, but to help support any frontline workers. "Don't get COVID-19 in the first place," she says. "That's what you can do to help medical workers."

The CDC agrees with Bechtel's advice. They put out guidance that recommends all Americans wear face masks in public. "The science shows face masks work both to protect the wearer and to protect others from coronavirus," they said in a statement to FOX.

Bechtel is also urging people to take care of their mental health during these times. She praised Yale New Haven Hospital for providing both their workers and patients with both medical supplies and behavioral health resources. "Taking care of COVID-19 patients, especially those who were gravely ill, was very hard emotionally," she said. Bechtel remembered the nurses offering patients iPads, which would allow them to talk to their loved ones. She also remembered locals dropping off meals for patients and workers. "The community was very supportive," she says. "That made it way easier."

How to Stay Healthy

Bechtel thinks the COVID pandemic could have been handled way better. "I would have made it mandatory for everyone to wear a mask, whether they are indoors or outdoors from the beginning," she says. She notes that in Connecticut, where she lives, once the stay at home order was announced, COVID cases were already spreading. "It should have been in place sooner."

As for yourself, do as the doctor orders and avoid catching COVID-19 in the first place: wear your face mask, get tested if you think you have coronavirus, avoid crowds (and bars, and house parties), practice social distancing, only run essential errands, wash your hands regularly, disinfect frequently touched surfaces, and to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, be sure to read this list of the 37 Places You're Most Likely to Catch Coronavirus.

Anna Bechtel
Anna Bechtel is a freelance writer currently based in Hamden, CT. Read more about Anna
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