Ob/Gyn Dispatches During COVID-19: Chia-Ling Nhan-Chang, MD

April 16, 2020

Each day during the COVID-19 crisis, we'll share an update from a member of our team in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. Today's note is from Chia-Ling Nhan-Chang, MD, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist and Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at NYP/CUIMC. This update was adapted from the author's Facebook post on April 6, 2020.

Chia-Ling Nhan-Chang, MD
Chia-Ling Nhan-Chang, MD

I had COVID-19. There you go. The last 3 weeks of my life were spent in self-quarantine in my room. I had it all: Fever, headache, body pain, extreme fatigue, anosmia, GI upset, vomiting, numbness in hands and feet, pneumonia, mild hypoxia, petechia, lymphopenia, all the signs of severe infection. With the assistance of my physician friends and my husband, I got through this nightmare, slowly, hour by hour. I drove by myself and sat in a car with a fever and delirium for 4 hours to get a test. I went to the ER with shortness of breath and pneumonia. I couldn’t tell if my pain was from hunger, spasms, severe dehydration or just breathing. I spent an hour crying while slowly brushing the tangles out of my hair watching hundreds of hairs fall on the floor around me. I couldn’t touch my children. I went from running a 5k one day to having no strength to take 10 steps to the bathroom. I haven’t exercised in 21 days (trivial, but for those who know me, you know it means I’m out). Some of my coworkers are equally sick, because we did our job, our life mission. My stories are endless and some of my wounds are still too fresh to share.

Thank you to our family and friends who dropped off chicken soup, groceries and dinner. Thank you to my work family for doctoring me through this and for giving me goals to focus on when my head was a fog. Thanks for covering me and my patients while I was away from work. Thank you to my close family and friends who sent me words of encouragement and pictures and made me laugh when all I wanted to do was bury my head in a pillow. Thank you to our teachers, family, and friends who educated and entertained our children on Zoom and FaceTime. Thank you to the rare few who showed enough restraint to leave me alone when I was exhausted, when my hands were too hurt and numb to type, and to those who understood that I just don’t want to talk because talking would trigger another round of painful coughing and vomiting.

As I sit here on my first day back at work, part of the wonderful Ob/Gyn team at one of the busiest and best hospitals in the world, I wanted to share a tiny piece of my journey with you. I may now be immune to COVID and I may now face taking care of our patients and teaching our residents/fellows with a mask and my usual all-out attitude, but I still have fear. I don’t want to see my patients sick. I don’t want to see my mentees and my co-workers sick. I don’t want to bring COVID home on my clothes, bag or shoes and make my family sick. Because even though I got through it, it was horrible. I don’t wish this on anyone. And you know what? I was lucky. A lot of people don’t make it. Someone you or I love may not make it. If you get it, I really hope your symptoms are mild.

Please stay home. Please practice self-isolation or quarantine if you have the slightest of symptoms. Please avoid gatherings of any kind. Please listen to all the harshest advice regarding how to avoid getting sick. As an essential health care worker, as a COVID survivor, as a mother, daughter, cousin, aunt, friend, I implore you all to practice common sense. To be selfless and make sacrifices. To get off of your phone and take the opportunity to practice mindfulness (this time with yourself or your family is PRICELESS, something we have not experienced in the last 1-3 generations.) To be a part of this community and flatten the curve. Don’t complain about trivial things. The world will still be there at the end of this pandemic. Your family and your true friends will still be there and share a beverage (alcohol for me) with you this summer. And when the right opportunity comes, pay it forward. Volunteer. Donate to a worthy cause. Participate in clinical trials. Donate blood or plasma.

Trust me. I am grateful for everything. Just close your eyes and thank the essential workers out there taking risks. Be safe and healthy. Be well.

Chia-Ling Nhan-Chang, MD