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Confessions of A Pediatrician

I have a confession to make.

I was wrong.

Very wrong.

A week ago, someone asked about COVID-19 and how serious it was. I quickly said, “Wash your hands, it can be serious in elderly, but it’s a lot ‘like the flu’ and there is a lot of media hype”.

Prior to that, I had read a little about the outbreak in China, heard about the quarantine implemented there, but had seen lots of reassuring information about children.

I have children.
My patients are children.

So that is where my mind naturally goes. It seemed children were either not sick or very mildly ill with this virus. I saw the reports about elderly patients becoming ill and even some dying due to this illness, but in my ‘pediatric brain’ that was very similar to influenza. I was not alarmed. And I’ve been to China-I’ve seen the crowds and the markets and the differences in culture. Our systems are very different. Other viruses in the past that have had outbreaks there didn’t become world wide issues, so I assumed even though we may have a few cases, it wouldn’t impact us here much.


I will never claim to know everything or be unwilling to learn something new or have my mind changed. So, I kept reading. As soon as I learned more about Italy early last week, my opinion did a 180. I began to grasp the issues:
-this is more easily transmitted than flu
-it is indeed more deadly
-the rapid progression through the community causes medical facilities to be overwhelmed

I read accounts of physicians being forced to make decisions that none of us signed up to make.
-Which of these patients gets care?
-Which is essentially: which of these patients is going to die?

That is NOT why any physician goes into medicine. We all want to help people get well. That is an unfair decision to place in the hands of a physician—or any human, really.

The more I read, the more I understood.

My children, my patients are still at minimal risk for severe illness from this.

For that I am incredibly, unspeakably grateful.

HOWEVER, they are potentially a large part of the spread of this virus to those who are at risk–their grandparents, their older neighbors, teachers and older friends.

And now, my response has changed:

We must take this seriously. I’ve had people asking me about how to navigate this. Time is critical. TODAY is critical. There are lots of articles circulating with great information and data about spread and how to slow it down, I won’t rehash that here, but I do want to give some advice.

Staying home is really, REALLY, REALLY important. We can not only look to history–1918 flu in different cities that had different responses–but we can actually look to the future.

Italy and other European countries are about 1-2 weeks ahead of us.

This is not an unknown at this point. If we do nothing, if we continue business as usual, we can see what WILL happen. More cases, then clusters, then exponential growth. We are already seeing it happen here. Hospitals will be overwhelmed and people will die.


Grandparents, older neighbors, teachers and older friends–will die.

So, my advice now is…still…wash your hands.

But also, stay home.

Don’t go to that play date.
Don’t go to the local trampoline park. Or Chuck E Cheese.
Don’t go to sporting events. Or dance rehearsal.
Or the movies. Or the restaurants. Or…..anywhere that isn’t essential.

Now that many are out of school or soon to be, remember this isn’t a vacation, this is a pandemic. It is a national and local public health emergency. We are living in a time that is unlike anything most of us have ever experienced.

Now, don’t get me wrong–remember, I have kids. This is NOT fun. No one is excited. I’ve already had hard discussions with my kids, there have been some tears about cancelled events. Disappointments about things they’ve worked really hard to prepare for. A freshman year of college abruptly ended. I feel especially bad for seniors in high school/college. And there are, of course, larger economic impacts that we are all going to have to figure out together as this progresses.

But, it’s a great lesson.

Love your neighbor as yourself.

If it was attacking children at the rate we’ve seen in the elderly, we would all be hunkered down immediately. But, it’s a tough pill to swallow when you or your children aren’t going to be affected or become very sick, but thinking for the greater good, the community, those at risk, and even the physicians and nurses caring for those who do become ill is something we all have to sacrifice for.

So–let’s all think about it from a different perspective. Reframe. The ‘silver lining’.

I’m always frustrated that family meals don’t happen very often any more. Too many practices, rehearsals and meetings.

Well, now we can all sit and enjoy a meal and each other’s company.
Because we have nowhere we have to go!

We can read a book out loud together.
We can watch a movie on TV in the middle of the afternoon.
Go on a walk.
Play in our backyard.
Do some crafting.
Clean our rooms. 🙂
Plant something and watch it grow.
We can just be…..together.

Social distancing, flattening the curve….all the buzz terms.

I’m under no delusion that it will be sunshine and roses…. I’ve already had to referee at my house.

But it doesn’t have to be all bad.
Let’s take it seriously for the good of everyone.
But we can also try to see the unexpected blessings in what we are being ‘forced’ to do.

Wash your hands-at home. Stay well–and hopefully sane. 😉

“I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence.” ~Martin Luther, 1527

Dr. Jennifer Drake