COVID DIARIES: The Virus Raw and Real with Dr. Deepthi Kagolanu

Dr. Deepti Kagolanu masked
Deepthi Kagolanu masked up before heading into the hospital.

I am okay. I just want to let everyone know that it is okay to talk about it. These are some thoughts I had, emotions I felt and ignored, and questions I asked myself daily over the last few months. Social media only covered hospitals in New York while we were trying to flatten the curve. What about after? What about how health care workers after covid?

MARCH 11

Should I buy masks online? How many? Do I spend a fortune? Will I be protected enough? Will my husband be protected? Is covid really coming to New York? Will I get it? Am I gonna survive this? Is it okay to be anxious about it? Is it okay to show that I am anxious about it? Is it okay to be scared? Should I share with my non doctor friends and family that I am scared? Will they be there for me or be scared to be around me?

MARCH 21

Is this real? Should I stay in a different place so I don’t give it to my husband? Can I afford another place? Am I over analyzing? Am I protecting myself enough? Will I get it? Will I give it to my husband? Will I survive? Am I washing my hands enough? Should I not go home? Should I not share food and drinks at home? Should I not share a bathroom at home? Am I overthinking? Am I anxious for no reason? Am I strong enough for this? Why is this happening the one year I chose to practice medicine before fellowship?–Feelings/thoughts/questions I still have today after 3 months

APRIL 3

Will I give it to other patients? Why am I so anxious? Why am I scared? How can I take care of patients if I am scared? Why am I sad and depressed for them? Why am I having photographic memories of patients suffering, bleeding, and dying unexpectedly? Should I go back to being numb like I was? Am I being a good doctor? Am I strong enough? If I show weakness, anxiety, and fear as an attending, what will my trainees learn? Should I be seeing patients on my own so that the trainees don’t get covid? Do I show patients that I am scared for them? Do I tell patients that they won’t make it or give them false hope? What do we tell families? How can I fake my strength and hope? 

Dr. Alejandro Gutierrez from Dr. Kagolanu’s COVID team.

APRIL 28

How long do I sleep in a separate room for? Do I eat in paper plates and cups? Should I not come back home till this is over? Why am I more exhausted than usual? Why am I hyperventilating in my mask? Is my mask leaking? Why am I feeling dizzy all the time? Do I have covid or am I just tired? How do I tell? Do I just keep working till I get a fever? Should I take my mask off to even eat? Will I give it to my coworkers if I eat without a mask? Why am I working so much slower than my usual? 

MAY 25

Why does it feel like I ran a marathon and something ran over my body? Why am I in bed for so many hours day and night? Why am I so winded after showers? Why am I not able to feed myself? Will I give it to my husband if he takes care of me? Who will take care of him if he is sick? Who will take care of my friends who are sick with covid when I am their only doctor friend? Will they be able to go to a hospital and be taken care of? Why can’t I find a thermometer to measure my fevers? Will I wake up tomorrow? What if my chest tightness gets worse tomorrow? What if I don’t wake up tomorrow? Should I not call my parents and sister because they will find out that I am sick? Isn’t it easier to just pretend that it is not covid? Am I going to make it to work when I get better? Will I get better? How can I be so scared? What if I wake up and cannot breathe? How can I be there for my friends suffering from covid while I am suffering as well? Will I ever see my parents again? How long do I isolate myself? Will this anxiety stay forever? Am I crazy for feeling this way? What am I feeling? Can I escape from this? How can I be so weak as a patient myself when I am supposed to be strong for my patients and my team? Am I going to be able to smell again? When will stop smelling burnt rubber? Will I be able to hear normally again?

JUNE 8

Will steroids work? Will hydroxychloroquine work? Will antibiotics work? Will lasix work? Will antibodies work? Will antivirals work? Will this ever stop? When will it stop? Do we just try everything and pray for it to work? I never pray but should I start praying? Should I be ready for an infinite number of deaths to come? Can I be ready? Is it okay to break down? Is it okay for me to cry? Is it okay to cry in front of others? Am I depressed or anxious? How long can I fake strength for? Why am I still seeing flashes of patients suffering? How can I be happy for those that we saved? How can we be happy for the patients that walked out the hospital door with a smile? 

I am glad that covid has slowed down now and we learned a lot in 2020 already. But some of these emotions may linger around for who knows how long. I am sure that many of my friends and colleagues have gone through all of these emotions. I am sure that many of you have gone through worse with a family member or friend that you have lost to covid. It is okay to talk about it and get help if needed.

Deepthi is currently a Gastroenterology fellow in Long Island, New York. She has trained in Internal Medicine and practiced for two years prior to starting her fellowship this year. She practiced as an Internal Medicine physician during the Covid-19 pandemic. She took care of many covid patients from March to May. 

She was born in Andhra Pradesh in south India. Deepthi moved to the United States at the age of 13 and has moved around a lot in the past 10 years. She completed her undergraduate degree at University of California, Irvine. She completed her medical school in the Caribbean and trained in Internal Medicine in Long Island.

Visit our October issue for more stories covering COVID-19.