I told you Tuesday about Dr. Lindsay Ripley. She wrote an essay for the November issue of D Magazine about a week she spent back in July working in Parkland Memorial Hospital’s COVID-19 ward (that’s not her normal gig; she volunteered for the assignment). Now that her story has also been published online, I checked in to see how she was doing and how things are going at the hospital. (Dallas County reported 1,304 cases yesterday. That marked the fourth day out of six that we’ve eclipsed 1,200 cases. “We are at a very dangerous point,” says County Judge Clay Jenkins.) Here’s what Lindsay wrote back:
I happened to be doing another week of COVID when the November issue hit the shelves, complete with a small teaser for my story on the front cover. Sure, I was proud to have published something. Yes, I beamed beneath my mask while I stood in the grocery store checkout line next to the magazine. But like everything in 2020, this accomplishment was more than a little bittersweet. This tangible reminder of how things in the hospital were a few months ago forced me to compare July’s snapshot in time with how we’re doing now.
A lot of things are better: we have more treatments for COVID and have become more adept at using them; I’ve learned new tricks for communicating with Spanish-speaking patients, like having them call the interpreter line on their own phone (not in a plastic bag) if it’s available; Parkland has fixed a lot of the systemic and logistical issues that tripped us up at the outset. But the emotional toll—at least for me that first week of November—was worse. Our COVID numbers are soaring. We are headed into a peak without signs of abating. And despite our best efforts and the treatments we’ve learned, COVID manages to kill a shocking number of young patients. Despite our admonishments to be vigilant with social distancing, I keep seeing unmasked mass gatherings on TV and drive past groups of people in bars on my way home from the hospital. These sights make me cringe.
My recent week on COVID wasn’t helped by the fact that my grandmother managed to acquire the virus. I had the surreal experience of fielding phone calls from my family members about COVID issues (impeded by my N95 and bagged phone) in between seeing my own COVID patients. In general, I get asked a lot of medical questions. Given the breadth of the field, I can often only provide vague or superficial answers. In this case, I was actually very knowledgeable and predicted the progression of my grandmother’s disease all too well. The day after I came off service, finishing my week in the COVID ward, she died. In the hospital. Alone. Just like many of my own patients have.