A critical care physician talks about his experience treating patients for COVID-19. Photo via Dr Raj Dasgupta

Dr. Raj Dasgupta, a pulmonary critical care physician, tested positive for COVID-19 in July.

For months, Dr. Raj Dasgupta has been treating patients as a pulmonary critical care physician at Keck Medicine of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

In July, Dasgupta went from being a physician to a patient as he contracted the new coronavirus.

To understand the challenges both physicians and patients face, we sat down with Dasgupta to learn about his experiences and perspectives on the pandemic.

He’ll also be speaking about his experiences at Healthline’s live Town Hall next week with Dr. Anthony Fauci.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Can you tell us about the work you’ve been doing to support patients through the pandemic?

I work at the University of Southern California, mainly at Keck Hospital.

We have a COVID unit and COVID patients there.

And remember, there are still many other diseases that need to be attended to. We can’t ignore heart disease, we can’t ignore lung disease, we can’t ignore getting your vaccinations.

So, I’ve had that balance of taking care of non-COVID patients but also seeing COVID patients who are in the hospital or getting evaluated to see if they have the virus or not.

What have been some of the challenging parts of providing that care?

From the moment this pandemic started, we’ve been trying to find the best way to help patients — and this virus has been throwing us curveballs.

I think we’ve learned that some of the traditional things that worked in the past for similar disorders, they don’t apply to COVID. And maybe we have to think outside the box.

At the same time, we’re still trying to practice this thing we hear a lot about in the medical world: evidence-based medicine. What does the data show? What does the science show?

But it’s hard when we haven’t experienced a pandemic in a long time, patients are doing horrible in front of you, and sometimes you’re pushed into a corner to make a decision to start medications with limited evidence available at the time.

I think this whole experience for many people has been very humbling.

Are there things that you feel cautiously optimistic about?

I love the three preventative strategies that we’ve been talking about over and over again: good hand hygiene, social distancing, and wearing the mask.

If you ever watch me when I go on the news, I say it almost every segment: “Wear the mask, wear it correctly.” I have faith, I believe that we know it works, and I’ve seen it.

I also have faith that we as pulmonary critical care doctors are learning. As more data comes, as people are talking more, as we share our experiences, I feel that patient care is getting better.

I also feel that we have some weapons that I have good faith in, whether that’s going to be steroids, whether it’s going to be remdesivir, whether it’s going be convalescent plasma.

And, of course, what about the vaccine? What I’m hoping for is that the vaccine will be at least 50 percent effective, safe, and can be administered in a timely fashion.

The other thing we’re interested in hearing about is your experiences having contracted the virus. When did you contract it?

It was the week of July 20, around there.

It was me, my wife, who’s also a physician, and our three kids.

My 9-month-old had some sniffles, maybe a little cranky. And of course, I’m the dad, I’m like, “It’s all right.” And my wife was like, “No, Raj, something’s not right.”

But she didn’t have a temperature.

And she started getting better pretty quick.

Then my 5-year-old and my 7-year-old were just feeling not as playful, not as energetic as they always are. And my wife, at the time [she] may have had sinusitis, but it wasn’t anything she was really worried about.

No one had any fevers, cough, shortness of breath.

No one had the classic things they talk about on [the] news.

But there was a possibility that schools were going to open and my daughter might be going, so my wife and I said, “Let’s just play it safe and get her tested.”

When my daughter went to get tested, she was scared. You’re taking like a Q-tip and shoving it up her nose. So my wife says, “Hey, I’ll get tested, too, so we can do it together.”

Almost 5 days later, the results came, and we found out my daughter and wife were positive. I was still essentially asymptomatic, but out of respect to my work and everyone, I got tested that same day. And boom, positive.

I don’t care what people say, it’s always a little panicky.

You worry. For me, more about others. About my children. My family, my friends.

And as the weeks went on, people kept on asking me, “Do you feel this, do you feel that?” It starts messing with your head. I’m like, “I don’t know… maybe?”

I did feel some fatigue, more than usual. I had a little brain fog, where it was hard to concentrate. I had some mild headaches.

But all those went away.

Now we’ve been back to work for over a week, we’re seeing patients, and we’re doing well.

I’m eternally grateful that my kids, my wife, and I had a very mild course — because it could have been much worse.

Based on your experiences, what would you want other patients to know?

I would say enjoy every moment with your family, because things change very quickly.

I would say that if you’re waiting for fevers, cough, and shortness of breath, you’re going to miss an opportunity to get evaluated early.

And if you ever find out you’re positive, my advice is to take a deep breath.

I think trying to stay calm initially is important.

Another big thing that goes under the radar is preparing your kids about COVID-19. I think it’s important to educate kids in general, especially as things open up, but also if they get infected. Be prepared in how you tell your son or daughter that they’re positive and what it means.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell our readers?

Whether you’ve been infected with the virus or not, whether you think that you’re at high risk or low risk, I truly want to pound on the point that our best weapon right now is prevention.

And when we talk about wearing the mask, not only is it about safety, it’s about respect.

I wear the mask to be safe, to be a role model, and because I want to respect other people.

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