An unofficial guide to coping with COVID-19 from a Christian emergency medicine physician’s perspective…
We are living in unexpected times with a lot of unforeseen circumstances, emotions, unemployment and the somewhat comical, mandatory homeschool nationwide. How do we approach life in such times?
I speak as one struggling from a Christian perspective working in the emergency department as a physician. Below I will offer a few unofficial tips and insights regarding practical wisdom as well as hope in Christ in the midst of these trials.
I do not pretend to be on the front lines since I am working in quasi-rural Iowa. I feel somewhat like when I was an Army Chaplain on our deployments previously in the 82nd Airborne Division. Was I there? Yes. However, I do not consider myself on the front lines as those who were actually fighting, who were wounded or lost their lives, as many who have gone before us. I only experienced the occasional rockets shot in my general direction or riding on roads where there had been IED’s and simply tried to offer support to those truly on the front lines.
Similarly, there are many heroic people out there right now on the front lines whether in healthcare or putting themselves in danger’s way otherwise taking care of an unprecedented amount of COVID-19 patients, such as those in New York City.
From my experience, somebody will say, “No, but you are on the front lines!“ However, even though I do not consider myself as such, I found through similar conversations in the Army and now in healthcare and that it is best to have utmost respect for those on the front lines while also not trying to compare our circumstances with the way that this may be impacting other people, even if it is severe anxiety and a person who is not even exposed to COVID-19. I’ve found it best not to compare how life scenarios impact different people, because when we start playing the comparison games, we run out of grace. And when we run out of grace, we ruin our marriages, friendships, and business relations.
Having said that, I offer with a grain of salt some practical tips regarding how we may live in these times, knowing that it must be adjusted for whether or not you live in New York City or are an Eskimo.
- Seeing that COVID-19 has been shown to live on inanimate objects for long periods of time, wash hands or use hand sanitizer after you touch anything that has been in the public.
- Avoid touching your face.
- If you are in a high-risk group such as greater than the age of 65 or are under the age of 2 (and are, therefore, a genius if you are reading this), or immunocompromised or have other serious illnesses, avoid contact with other people as much as possible.
- Try to maintain a distance of 6 feet from other people when in public. This is a perfect excuse for introverts to gain social points by the casual wave or short conversation without having to truly engage (I know from personal experience!)
- New guidance is to wear a facemask when in public. These do not need to be N-95 respirators. See how to make a mask here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/cloth-face-cover.html
- If you suspect you have been exposed, self-quarantine for 14 days. This may no longer be realistic if you live in New York City, for instance, because everybody has likely been exposed who breathes air, but this is still recommended on the CDC website: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/social-distancing.html
- It is important to keep in mind that you may be shedding the virus for several days before you even get symptoms, so please be wary of this fact and take conservative measures to self-quarantine, if there is a question of exposure.
- Some say that COVID-19 isn’t a big deal and that it is no worse than influenza. Even though I haven’t heard people saying this recently, if you are one of these people who feels that you will weather COVID-19 well because you are otherwise healthy, please realize that loving your neighbor has to do with not exposing them as well. This has been shown to be more contagious than influenza. Even though it is primarily causing deaths in the elderly, there also has been a spattering of deaths in young and healthy people for reasons we do not know at this time. Know that every breath is from the Lord and that COVID-19 can take down a healthy person as well.
- Understand that medicine as practiced in hospital settings is based on rigorous scientific studies as well as an accumulation of data that makes us fairly certain about the subject before treatments are initiated. However, COVID-19 has limited data regarding treatment because we are living in the midst of it. We have limited initial studies starting to come from China and Italy and have to act with the knowledge that we have. However, treatment is, by and large, supportive at this time.
- Because of the previous point, there may be nothing that will be done for you when you come to the emergency department unless your oxygen saturation is below 93%, unless you fall into a high-risk group, or show some other serious illness that would require admission. Having said that, depending upon your region of the country, even if you think you have COVID-19 and present to the emergency department, you may very well not get tested for COVID-19. This is because COVID-19 tests are in limited supply. Furthermore, if you are not sick enough to be admitted to the hospital, there would be little benefit in getting a COVID-19 test other than knowing that you have it for the sake of exposure to others.
- Because treatment is supportive, you may save yourself a trip to the doctor or emergency room by obtaining a thermometer +/- a pulse oximeter. If your temperature is under 100.4 F and your oxygen saturation is greater than 93%, you may very well get sent home from the emergency department unless there are other concerning symptoms. Current advice from the CDC is to try to stay home and call the nurse or other COVID-19 hotline such as we have at the hospital where I work.
- Even though fever and respiratory symptoms are the most common symptoms of COVID-19, you may only have one or the other … or possibly neither. It can present with just GI symptoms or heart attack, for instance. Those who have been providers on the front lines such as in New York, California, Louisiana or elsewhere report that COVID-19 can seemingly present as anything.
- In light of the prior point, if you have any emergent concerns, you should be seen emergently or call a nurse or other hotline to discuss, if possible. This is certainly a question of resource utilization, so, depending upon the region of the country, the emergency departments may already be terribly overtaxed. If you can avoid the emergency department by making a phone call first if there’s a question, this would be helpful for the overall number of patients flocking to the emergency department. However, they will likely tell you on the telephone that if you are concerned that this is an emergency that you should call 911 or go immediately to the emergency department, which is the safe thing to do.
- If you are suspected to have COVID-19, even if untested, you should stay under quarantine for 72 hours after fever and other symptoms have resolved, so long as it has been 7 days since the onset of your symptoms. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/steps-when-sick.html
Click on https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/prevention.html for further tips from the CDC.
Specifically Christian recommendations:
- These are times to be cooperative with the government regarding their local recommendations for meetings together. As Al Mohler has adequately stated, this is a part of loving our neighbor and falls under Romans 13. This does not seem like a situation where we are going to lose our freedom for meeting together permanently. We do not need to treat this as persecution generally. We do not want to be the cause of a COVID-19 outbreak nor the death of half of the elderly in our church congregation because of refusal to be wise and use alternate means of meeting together in the present time.
- For those of us who are in the low risk categories, such as not being over 65, under the age of 2, or having other comorbidities that would put us at risk, let us look for unique opportunities to serve others. These are unique times to be the hands and feet of Jesus, who cared for and loved people in ways we cannot comprehend. He did indeed care for the eternal redemption of people and laid down his life as the God-man, who was the only adequate sacrifice, and was raised to new life, promising hope and restoration and new bodies forever for those who would believe in him. This gives us great hope to be his hands and feet in the present, even if we were to acquire sickness and if that sickness were to lead us to death. Our joy is in following in the footsteps of our Savior.
- These are unique times for the rest of the world to see Christ’s love for every person, no matter who they are or from where they have come. There is a cohort of people out there who would describe all Christians as bigots. However, even though there probably is a very small contingent of Christians who actually are, the majority of Christians are not. I think that most of the general population may actually realize this, but I don’t know sometimes. However, these are unique times to show love to our neighbor no matter whether we agree with them or not. I pray that this could be a time to calm some of the fiery rhetoric that says we must be bigots or hateful if we disagree with others and that they would see an even greater love by our care for them in the midst of disagreement … and also that we may experience the same from the other side as well.
- Let us be wary of speculation about end times scenarios that seem to tickle the years of some whenever something bad happens. Horrible things have been happening since the fall of man. We know that Christ is our hope in whatever horrible situation. Thus, even though there may be benefit of talking about eschatological events in certain settings, let us continue to cast our focus on Christ and his redemptive work.
- In light of this previous point, let us recall our hope in all trials. Let us not fall into confusing different types of suffering in this world. Some will commonly get confused by saying that our current crisis is due to some judgment on a particular person for something they have done. However, let us remember that the fall of mankind into sin has brought about suffering in this world, suffering which Christ has born in his body on the tree on our behalf. He is the hope in the midst of this suffering, who gives hope to all who would cast themselves at His feet, asking His forgiveness and for Him to be their King.
- Let us bear one another’s burdens in unique ways during these times of isolation, whether online or by phone or by snail mail.
- Let us be humble, not expressing that it doesn’t matter if we get COVID-19 because we are healthy and may withstand the sickness just as we have withstood influenza. Let us recall that every breath is from the Lord and that our death may be today. Let us live accordingly, redeeming the time.
*Note that the contents here is not official medical advice. Please call 911 or go to the ED if you have an emergency. Follow the advice of the CDC and your doctor.