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Doctor who survived Ebola details a harrowing day in the ER. Coronavirus scares him

Fiona Lowenstein, 26, thought she could ride out the Coronavirus at home, but ended up with difficulty breathing and had to spend 2 nights in the hospital.

Posted: Mar 24, 2020 12:21 PM
Updated: Mar 24, 2020 12:21 PM

Dr. Craig Spencer has worked as an epidemiologist in Africa and Southeast Asia and famously survived getting Ebola in 2014 after caring for patients in Guinea.

The coronavirus scares him.

Spencer is now the director of Global Health in Emergency Medicine at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, which has become the epicenter of the US outbreak.

He described a harrowing day in the emergency room in a lengthy Twitter thread posted early Tuesday morning.

Spencer wrote that he starts his day like many other workers by brewing a big pot of coffee because the coffee shops near the hospital are closed.

It ends with him taking his clothes off in the hallway of his apartment, avoiding his toddler until he can run to get a shower to "rinse it all away" before getting some family time for the first time in days.

The hours in between are filled with case after case of coronavirus, beginning when he walked into the ER at 8 a.m.

"Immediately struck by how the calm of the early morning city streets is immediately transformed," he wrote. The bright fluorescent lights of the ER reflect off everyone's protective goggles. There is a cacophony of coughing. You stop. Mask up. Walk in."

He writes that he is told about a patient who is receiving the maximum amount of oxygen but is still breathing fast.

He describes having "a long and honest discussion" with the patient and her family -- who are on the phone -- that she needs to go on life support before things get worse.

"You're notified of another really sick patient coming in. You rush over. They're also extremely sick, vomiting. They need to be put on life support as well. You bring them back. Two patients, in rooms right next to each other, both getting a breathing tube," he wrote. "It's not even 10 a.m. yet."

Afraid to take off his mask

He gets paged almost hourly with urgent messages:

"Stat notification: Very sick patient, short of breath, fever. Oxygen 88%.

Stat notification: Low blood pressure, short of breath, low oxygen.

Stat notification: Low oxygen, can't breath. Fever."

At some point, he realizes that it's the afternoon and he hasn't drank any water.

"You're afraid to take off the mask. It's the only thing that protects you. Surely you can last a little longer - in West Africa during Ebola, you spent hours in a hot suit without water. One more patient..." he wrote.

Spencer eventually gets something to eat in the hospital cafeteria which is thankfully still open. He washed his hands twice, cautiously took off his mask and eats as fast as he can before rushing back to work.

"Nearly everyone you see today is the same. We assume everyone is #COVID-19. We wear gowns, goggles, and masks at every encounter. All day. It's the only way to be safe," he wrote. "Where did all the heart attacks and appendicitis patients go? Its all COVID."

When his shift finally ends, Spencer cleans everything he has before he leaves the hospital to walk home.

"Before you leave, you wipe EVERYTHING down. Your phone. Your badge. Your wallet. Your coffee mug. All of it. Drown it in bleach. Everything in a bag. Take no chances," he wrote. "Sure you got it all??? Wipe is down again. Can't be too careful."

Spencer says he feels" naked and exposed" as he walks down the deserted streets without a mask.

"The streets are empty. This feels nothing like what is happening inside. Maybe people don't know???" he wrote.

Social distancing is 'the only thing that will save us'

As bad as the day was, Spencer expects it to get worse.

"Everyone we see today was infected a week ago, or more. The numbers will undoubtedly skyrocket overnight, as they have every night the past few days. More will come to the ER. More will be stat notifications. More will be put on a ventilator," he wrote.

Spencer wrote that it's too late to stop the virus, but its spread can be slowed because "the virus can't infect those it never meets."

"Social distancing is the only thing that will save us now," he wrote. "I don't care as much about the economic impact as I do about our ability to save lives."

He ended the thread with a plea for people to take the pandemic seriously.

"You might hear people saying it isn't real. It is.

You might hear people saying it isn't bad. It is.

You might hear people saying it can't take you down. It can.

I survived Ebola. I fear #COVIDー19.

Do your part. Stay home. Stay safe.

And every day I'll come to work for you," he wrote.

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 219755

Reported Deaths: 2858
CountyCasesDeaths
Multnomah41855618
Washington27838258
Marion24509333
Clackamas19964242
Lane14885174
Jackson12709156
Deschutes1056587
Umatilla958794
Linn627782
Yamhill507481
Klamath494479
Douglas451888
Polk431457
Josephine416975
Malheur366667
Benton347422
Jefferson249942
Coos231939
Columbia208732
Union169424
Wasco156131
Lincoln154422
Crook139924
Hood River126734
Morrow122917
Clatsop117610
Baker111517
Curry79112
Tillamook7605
Grant5637
Lake4868
Harney46011
Wallowa2396
Gilliam871
Sherman872
Wheeler441
Unassigned00

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 3966943

Reported Deaths: 64429
CountyCasesDeaths
Los Angeles130334324691
Riverside3085464662
San Bernardino3067695240
San Diego2980023798
Orange2824265144
Santa Clara1234042099
Sacramento1157321781
Kern1132161425
Fresno1046391746
Alameda971211286
Ventura838691044
Contra Costa77708834
San Joaquin769151460
Stanislaus658931095
Tulare50409854
San Mateo44622588
Monterey44523528
San Francisco40544563
Solano36004263
Santa Barbara35741467
Merced33321485
Sonoma32880330
Imperial29164745
Placer25146307
Kings23765251
San Luis Obispo21970265
Madera17058249
Santa Cruz16616207
Marin14958239
Yolo14863215
Butte13235205
Shasta13043242
El Dorado11125120
Napa1044282
Sutter10203127
Yuba700450
San Benito628263
Tehama589266
Lassen588826
Nevada541675
Humboldt511453
Mendocino471052
Tuolumne453573
Lake423866
Amador387748
Siskiyou256640
Glenn246527
Colusa235718
Calaveras231658
Del Norte16688
Inyo147338
Mono13265
Plumas7726
Modoc5767
Mariposa5007
Trinity4676
Sierra1310
Alpine890
Unassigned660
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