They’re Doctors. They’re Married. They Both Have Coronavirus. But Only 1 Got Critically Ill

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Two doctors from Massachusetts General Hospital are fighting the coronavirus — in their own home.

Dr. Noopur Raje directs the Center for Multiple Myeloma at Massachusetts General Hospital. Dr. Jag Singh is a cardiologist.

They’re married to each other. And both tested positive for the coronavirus.

Raje has no symptoms. Her husband had symptoms that threatened his life. When those progressed, his wife called 911 and he was taken to the hospital by ambulance. He was there for nine days.

Now a month into the ordeal, Singh and his wife are still staying on different floors of their townhouse. And the two doctors have been tweeting about what they’ve learned from the experience.

Raje wrote in one tweet that even though both she and her husband are physicians at a major academic medical center, the coronavirus has been a challenge like no other.

Interview Highlights

Dr. Noopur Raje: We are used to seeing a lot of critical illness. And this, I was seeing it from the other end, more as a caregiver for my husband. And week one was fairly OK. We knew he was COVID-positive. He had the fevers. But as things kept progressing, this is something which I have never seen before … And as I was taking care of him, knowing that I had access to the best medical care, knowing the knowledge base that I have, I found it extremely challenging to kind of monitor him. And to me … I wasn’t sure how other people would ever be able to handle something like this … And there’s so much of an unknown out here.

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We keep talking about allowing a patient to sort of self-quarantine, have fluids, eat, and you’re going to get better. And what I was seeing in the first week is continuous fevers, a weight loss of about close to 14 pounds. And [it was] impossible for him to sort of help himself. And he needed help. He needed me to go in there and give him food, water, make sure his fevers were okay … There’s a sense of sort of helplessness, as well, as to when is this going to get better.

Dr. Jag Singh: I remember very little of it. Each day kind of rolled into the other. But right at the onset, when I first developed the fever, accompanied by body aches … I almost knew for certain that this was quite different from the conventional flu and had a very high suspicion that this was COVID, which I think insisted on us getting tested, and then me finding out within 48 hours that I was actually positive … At around day 10, I developed a severe cough and shortness of breath. And I think I was a little bit of out of sorts, [so] that Noopur had to actually call 911 to take me into the hospital and get admitted.

Quickly I had a chest X-ray … both the lungs were significantly infiltrated and had pneumonia … This prompted a CAT scan in the ER. And although they initially had thought that they would triage me to a regular COVID floor, the CT scan showed that the extent of lung involvement was pretty significant. And they redirected me to the intensive care unit … The lungs are supposed to be black in color on a chest x ray. And they were pretty whitish, indicating that there was infection in both the lungs and involving a large portion of both the lungs.

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I was looking at it from the other side of the bed now, and I knew that it didn’t look good. And then subsequently, when I was consented for intubation and a ventilator … it was a little disconcerting.

I was one of the fortunate ones that my oxygen saturations remained fairly steady … Since I was stable, I was then moved to the COVID floor, where I stayed for almost eight days because my fevers continued unabated for at least seven of those eight days before I started feeling better.

Raje: As soon as he went into the ER, that was the last I saw of him for nine days … I had access to all his laboratory data, his imaging. I had not realized, even at home, how sick he was … Based on the bloodwork he met every criteria of being really, really quite sick.

I am an oncologist myself, so I do take care of immunocompromised patients, and I will not go back to work until obviously I’m negative. And at least at MGH, we require two negative tests … I think the point, really, here, is you can be completely asymptomatic and still be COVID-positive. And therefore it’s so important for all of us to consider ourselves as the potential vectors or carriers. And that’s really the reason why social distancing, masking up and staying home, if possible, are really, really critical until we can test more people. You know, even today, we’re testing only the very high risk patients … Most patients don’t have access to testing the way Jag and I do.

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Singh: [Without comprehensive testing], I don’t think we can change the trajectory of this disease. We might eliminate the surge. But I think the potential for second and third surges will continue to exist if we’re not able to test everybody.

I would say do not underestimate the virulence of this disease, because being healthy is no guarantee of not being impacted by it. Just being the physician who is now a patient, I think the whole experience was really surreal. It is a completely different vantage point being on the other side of the bed.

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