Clinical

What Happens When A Medical Student is Diagnosed With COVID-19?

Samahir Tariq Khan
Published on May 17, 2021. Updated on May 17, 2021.

What happens when the story of the COVID-19 pandemic is no longer just part of your curriculum in med school? It becomes your story! In this post, med student and OMEF Samahir Tariq Khan shares a personal account of testing COVID-positive—as well as the not-so positive thoughts that lingered following her diagnosis. 

I opened my eyes to the smell of freshly brewed coffee filling the air. Mama’s up, I guessed. I went out to see both of my parents awake but giving off sick-looking vibes. My eyes registered some saucepans boiling on the gas stove with herbs and what not. Mama announced they had the flu and felt feverish, though the thermometer lagged behind. 

For an ordinary day in a pre-COVID world, for it’s only “the flu we’d have called up the clinic for an appointment, gotten there at our convenience, dosed up on some OTCs (over-the-counter medicine) and slept in for the weekend. But we have reached “the new normal” phase. Masks, elbow bumps, quarantine, nose swabs... Ughhh...

The diagnosis

We called up the nearest COVID testing center, reserved a time slot, and planned. A lot of planning, I tell you. 

Plans of how the next few days would apparently look like for the three of us. Plans of ordering in our impending groceries since we had to socially isolate ourselves now. Plans on filing for sick leaves during a vulnerable economical situation. Plans on calling up any family doctor in our contacts in case things turn detrimental. Plans of holding on to the sliver of hope that the survival rate is quite high (the hardest affirmation of all). Basically, plans of being positive if we actually test positive.

The test results wouldn’t have been available until a day or two later. But very unfortunately, their fevers rocketed up. Body aches and fatigue following the course. Consequently, we had to postpone the tests. 

The anxiety that would have hung over our heads for a mere 48 hours was now looming on until an infinite time. I went on to reheat the herbal tea, and it struck me: I could not smell it—it was like my nose had been entirely cut off. The confirmation of our diagnosis was somehow very evident in that moment. 

Alas, the dreadful virus was in my body.

Osmosis text about medical students knowing the facts

The reality/uncertainty

Statistics and research data are merely numbers until your name is up on the health registry. It seems real then. The danger, the mortality rates, the spikes, and the second waves. Everything simply comes to life. 

As someone within the health industry, your knowledge on the good and bad of a pandemic is very neutral until you fall upside down into the “viral” trap. We had read up on the coronaviruses and the epidemics they had caused back in second year. Fat microbiology books detailing the ever-so-complex structure of these viruses. But we never really cared. We never do. 

Current medical school curriculum barely touches upon the intricacies of human life. Our onus—always—is the upcoming exam and how to survive that. And we did just that. Made flashcards, practiced questions, passed exams, and rambled on to the more prevalent microorganisms concerning our local communities.

During the initial lockdown, my days were jammed with Instagram news of young people suspiciously dying of an odd stroke-like illness, soaring death counts on the WHO website, frontline workers challenging their way through uncertain times, and new research. Trying to be at the top of the game once school resumes. 

When I finally tested positive, the privilege of blocking out toxic news and the consequential anxiety was an alien concept. I could not figure out how to listen to all the wellness bloggers and turn away from news leading to my burnout. How to stop looking at the statistics everyday not by choice but rather by habit. 

Striking the right balance between the amount of input your mind can engage in and the irrational processing it voluntarily kickstarts is simply a hack I have not mastered yet.

Reflections

You don’t have to die in order to understand death. Yes, empathy does come from a place of suffering, but as medical students—as future doctors in a world that is so challenging and unkind—I believe it is part of the job to understand. Be educated. Know the facts. Decode the patient, not the disease. 

This came up when a close friend of mine showed signs of being afraid of interacting with me after around 20 days of my symptoms. My symptoms had not sprung up since almost a week, and according to all official guidelines, I was COVID-free. But his fear was not a safety precaution; rather, it was because of ignorance. The ignorance we show to our patients, their families, and the chaos that a certain diagnosis spews out in their lives. I hope our future patients find peace in our words and our care.

Having COVID-19 can be really bad: physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausting. If you had COVID-19 and came out of it alive, if you have all your loved ones well and by your side, please stop telling other people how scientists and politicians are making a nuisance out of a “small flu.” When people who have lost their loved ones, their jobs, their sense of peace say that this is a bad year, try to understand them. Please put on your masks and try a more empathetic approach before speaking.

About Samahir Tariq Khan

Samahir Tariq Khan is a final year student at Ziauddin Medical University, Pakistan. She plans to pursue a research degree before aiming for her lifelong dream of getting into Trauma Surgery. Her favorite study buddy has been Beethoven’s symphonies, helping her focus through med school, while she loves binge watching Shonda Rhimes oh-so-brilliant shows every now and then. 

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