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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.

Confirmed Cases: 22613

Reported Deaths: 385
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Multnomah5186101
Washington325827
Marion309073
Umatilla239832
Clackamas162749
Malheur86915
Deschutes62711
Lane6154
Jackson5362
Yamhill50213
Lincoln4319
Union3972
Jefferson3964
Morrow3933
Polk35012
Linn31511
Hood River2150
Klamath2062
Wasco1993
Benton1826
Douglas1591
Josephine1362
Columbia1031
Coos930
Clatsop880
Baker520
Crook511
Tillamook350
Lake320
Wallowa201
Curry170
Sherman160
Harney110
Gilliam40
Grant40
Unassigned00
Wheeler00

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 613101

Reported Deaths: 11148
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Los Angeles2188315215
Riverside45662881
Orange42854789
San Bernardino39374561
San Diego34065622
Kern25888204
Fresno19157203
San Joaquin14651261
Alameda14558219
Santa Clara13865208
Sacramento13615199
Tulare12105205
Stanislaus11953195
Contra Costa10756152
Imperial10035257
Ventura909095
San Francisco805369
Santa Barbara727477
San Mateo6803126
Merced677789
Monterey589041
Marin567482
Kings524364
Solano459641
Sonoma406351
Madera292447
Placer254327
San Luis Obispo243918
Yolo196646
Santa Cruz13716
Butte137012
Napa120611
Sutter10917
El Dorado8272
San Benito8154
Yuba7404
Lassen6950
Mendocino52910
Shasta48810
Glenn4363
Colusa4095
Nevada3621
Tehama3121
Humboldt3094
Lake2682
Amador20811
Calaveras1741
Mono1601
Tuolumne1602
Inyo1275
Siskiyou1110
Del Norte1060
Mariposa632
Plumas390
Trinity80
Sierra60
Modoc50
Alpine20
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