When Brian Rogers, DO, MPH, felt the first signs of a 100.4 degree fever coming on in early July, he expected to be able to keep it under control with a strong dose of ibuprofen. But when his temperature continued to rise, he knew he was dealing with something unique.
“I learned in residency to look for what’s strange different and new. Well, this was strange, different and new,” Dr. Rogers, a family physician in Dallas, said. “I wasn’t ok. The fever was hovering around 101 the whole day, no matter what I did to try to manage it.”
A nasopharyngeal swab test for COVID-19 came back positive a week later, and though his symptoms were limited to a three-day fever, he echoed other physicians who have been COVID-19 patients in saying he found the experience to be eye-opening.
In this edited Q&A, Dr. Rogers discusses the mental challenges of a two-week isolation and how his perspective on the virus has changed.
Do you know how you might have first come in contact with the virus?
I do some public health work with Dallas County through the Texas Medical Association. I’m on their Community Emergency Response Committee, so I’ve been up to my eyeballs in COVID-19, which is probably how I got it. I’ve arranged myself to be on the frontlines.
I’ve had patients sick, and some have died. We’ve lost people. It’s the nature of the beast, and it’s tough. This is a tough time.
What did you do once you had been tested and were awaiting results?
There’s a section in my house that isolates three rooms, and that became my solitary confinement. I battled a fever for about three days. This was when labs in my area were having trouble with their reagents, so it took seven days, and by that time, I had almost talked myself out of having COVID-19. I felt fine by day three.
But it was hard. My daughter was visiting, and I wanted to see her, but I couldn’t. While she was here, the lab results came in. It was like a funny personal insult: not only did it say positive, it said “high positive.” So I spent another week in isolation for a total of 14 days.
Did anyone you are in close contact with catch the virus?
Nobody else in my family has gotten it or shown symptoms, which is great because many families have seen it spread to everyone. I also didn’t have respiratory symptoms, which facilitates viral spread more than the symptoms I had.
We tried to think like scientists the whole time, so we isolated my 78-year-old mother-in-law completely. But this is what people don’t think about: you try your best, but sometimes it’s not doable. It was easy for me to pull off, because I’m blessed to have a fairly large house that has separating doors. But I try not to give a patient advice that they simply cannot pull off, which we find ourselves doing a lot nowadays.
What was it like in isolation for two weeks?
Some people crash and burn with respiratory symptoms and fever, and you’ll get some people with those respiratory symptoms but no fever. So when you’re in isolation, you always wonder, is this the day it’s going to go south? Especially when you’ve had real human contact with patients who don’t make it. Most of them are older, granted, but I’m 55.
It also probably wasn’t too healthy, but I was occupying my time by reading a bunch of studies on COVID-19. I was also doing some telemedicine, which took my mind off of it, but I was getting more cabin fever the longer I was there.
Mentally, isolation isn’t healthy for you. You don’t realize how much you need to be around people until you’re not. I tried to keep my mind busy. I read a lot and tried to watch Hulu and Netflix.
What was the main thing you learned about COVID-19 after having it?
It’s easy to say “I want you to isolate for two weeks,” but when you’re actually doing it, it’s really hard, mentally. I feel a lot more compassion for when patients break isolation. I didn’t, but I could see how you could.
I tried all I could to hold off that growing feeling of loneliness and isolation. Anything that you can do to just mark the next day off the calendar is important.
I have a good support system, but the people who don’t need even more help right now. Whenever you have time, reach out to anybody who may not have that support. That little phone call can brighten somebody’s day. Just check in on them.
What have you been doing since your recovery?
I’ve been taking antibody tests, which is the appropriate thing to do once you recover. My first one came back positive for IgG at 8.2, which basically means COVID-19 is still in my immune system’s library of past infections. So right now if I send someone into that library to look for SARS-Cov-2, they’d find that book, and it would be big.
I’m going to try to do a once-a-month test to see how long it remains that big. The theory is that the antibodies go down over time, but we don’t know how long. That’s why I’m testing myself, because I can and I’m a scientist. Everything I learn is more than we knew before, because this is a new player.
With regards to practicing, I performed 464 tests before I got COVID-19, and I’m not going to stop doing tests. As one of my trainers in residency said, “If not you, then who, and if not now, then when?” That puts things into perspective for me.