Editor’s Note: Somiya’s father provided permission for her to share the details of his hospitalization within this piece.
My medical school cohort was on spring break when our administration announced new social distancing measures and a shift to remote learning. They had already begun to convert our curriculum online. We were about to begin our musculoskeletal section of anatomy, my favorite subject, and I was absolutely gutted to miss all of the lab time. However, unconventional times call for adaptive measures and soon Zoom became our new medium for learning. During mid-March, there was so much uncertainty surrounding the virus, and I became preoccupied with researching it all.
All of the news agencies were reporting on COVID-19, but as a first-year medical student, I approached the articles differently by utilizing UpToDate, an evidence-based clinical resource used widely by all healthcare professionals. I was able to identify misinformation using a legitimate source to compare it to. As I watched video reports or read various articles, it became evident that there was a growing divide between two extremes: those who thought the virus was a hoax and those who were feeding into the hysteria surrounding it.
Unmotivated to study, I dedicated myself to researching the virus as well as its epidemiological, social and economical impact on our communities. Adjusting to life in quarantine was frustrating, and I felt like I was watching the world turn upside down. However, researching the pandemic felt much more relevant than trying to use all these anatomy apps to fill in gaps created by a lack of practical hands-on learning.
As I researched, I came across articles regarding healthcare workers contracting the virus and dying from it. This took a heavy toll on my mental health, as most of my family works in healthcare; my dad in particular is a pulmonologist taking care of COVID patients. Ignoring my school work, I fed my anxiety with more COVID research and news.
Like many of my classmates, I persevered and eventually began to study again, learning one muscle at a time. As soon as I established a studying routine, my worst fear came true: my dad contracted COVID. He did not present as a “typical” COVID patient. He did not have a fever, cough or shortness of breath, but he did experience extreme fatigue and ageusia, or the loss of taste.
My brother and I drove my dad to the emergency department (ED) to be tested. As we sat in the car outside patiently waiting, I got the first text from my dad: “keeping me here overnight.” The rest of the day dissolved into a blur as they increased the amount of oxygen he was on hourly.
After a look at his vitals and chest x-ray, his team decided that he needed to be transferred to a hospital with an ongoing Remdesivir clinical trial. Cedars-Sinai or Hoag Hospital Newport Beach were the only options, but neither were accepting transfers. The only way for my father to be admitted was to show up at the ED. I drove my dad, now on oxygen, to Newport Hoag.
The next few days were a very unwelcome glance towards my future clinical rotations. I was reporting to “attendings,” otherwise known as my close family and family friends, on his condition daily. I learned about oxygen, high-flow oxygen, intubation, diuretics, anticoagulants and more. I scoured the internet for every Remdesivir clinic trial that I could find. When his condition worsened in the first few days, it was the scariest time of my life. But I learned one undeniable truth: there’s nothing more comforting than the power of family, prayers and modern medicine. He slowly began to improve and within ten days he came back home.
Our knowledge of the Remdesivir clinical trial at Newport Hoag saved my dad’s life. What about all the other families in Riverside County who didn’t know they needed to go to a different county to receive this medication?
The pandemic has just begun, and it has already taken an extensive toll on most people physically, mentally, financially or socially — or some combination. It has exposed many health disparities in underserved regions and ethnicities. Experiencing this pandemic first hand has led me to be interested in public health and to possibly pursue a Masters of Public Health (MPH) in the future. Now, I just hope that this tragedy can be the seed to provoke change because the underserved in our country have suffered enough. Health care access must not only be equal but also equitable; how much a patient knows ought not drive the care they get.