Taking Coronavirus Seriously

My wife, Anya, was living well with metastatic breast cancer. We’d just returned from vacation, and those who saw her marveled at Anya’s energy and vivacity. She took ill suddenly on an August hot night in Macon after watching our son's marching band practice in the Georgia heat.

andrew, anya, noah on vacation

The night Anya died, her oxygen plummeted without warning, and she was whisked into a Macon Intensive Care Unit after midnight on a Sunday.

This is why I'm taking coronavirus seriously.

Intensive care unit

I've seen our ICU on a normal Sunday night. I’ve seen lungs suddenly fail to deliver oxygen. I've seen a hospital room fill suddenly with worried nurses and doctors. I’ve seen the split-second decision to move from a respirator to a ventilator.

I've seen how many people on the ICU team it takes to stabilize someone on a ventilator — everyone essential to the task, everyone working in perfect synchronicity in one room at one time. I've seen how many medicines, and how much equipment it takes to keep someone alive in ICU. I've seen how many professionals it takes to correctly assess and locate the source of oxygen depletion. I've seen a team only find the source of that oxygen depletion after hours of misdiagnosis when it was already too late. And I've seen how quickly the ICU needed the bed once it was too late.

This is why I'm taking coronavirus seriously.


In the space of twenty minutes my wife went from resting with a mild case of pneumonia — “only one of five lobes,” our urgent care doctor cheerfully said that afternoon — to the center of a whirling, worried knot of emergency room and intensive care doctors, nurses, respiratory specialists, anesthesiologists, all trying to get an oxygen reading from fingers suddenly too cold to be read.

I paced the halls without stopping for hours waiting for the team to stabilize Anya, and when a doctor called me into her ICU office at 4 am and told me to prepare myself, that she might not make it, the unreal nightmare came upon me at once — made me throw my hands into the air, not knowing what else to do with them, a graceless dancer’s arms swimming in nothingness, reaching for another world.

I held her hand as she died just after sun-up, telling her I'd find her one day.

This is why I'm taking coronavirus seriously.

Adding stress to our medical resources

It was hard enough to save someone's life on a good night when there was no mass emergency in the ICU. Now add a dozen people in similar states of failure to that same ICU.

Now add two dozen people.

Now imagine half of the ICU staff out sick with the coronavirus.

Now imagine all of the available ventilators already in use.

Now imagine all of the available respirators already in use.

Now imagine all of the hospital beds already in use.

Now imagine your panic.

Now imagine someone you love dying in a makeshift overflow of the local ICU.

You don't have to imagine it. Because it happened in China. And it's happening in Italy. And it's happening in Iran. And if the epidemiologists are right, it'll be happening here soon.

This is why I'm taking coronavirus seriously.

Social distancing

This is why everyone, even the youngest and healthiest, should take the warnings and social distancing seriously. If you’re not the one who’ll wind up in ICU, or if you think you’re invincible, think of your mother or father, grandmother or grandfather — think of everyone you love over the age of 60 or living with chronic health conditions.

Now imagine them in that makeshift overflow ICU, and imagine what remains of a depleted, exhausted medical staff trying to figure which patient will receive the only remaining ventilator.

I’ve felt utterly helpless watching my soulmate fail, on a normal Sunday night, with the normal night shift, in a normal ICU. I will never forget what I saw. I will never fully recover from what I saw. If your social distancing can limit the chance of putting one single person in the ICU, you’re saving a life — your father or mother's life, your friend's life, possibly your own life — but you’re also saving the lives of everyone who loves that person lying in the ICU, struggling and failing to breathe.

This is why you should take coronavirus seriously.

Social responsibility

If you don’t, the suffering that will come will be your responsibility, and the life you don't save will be your own.

Editor’s note: This article was published on March 18, 2020. Further developments in what we know about COVID-19 are continuously emerging. For more information about COVID-19 and strategies for coping, visit Advanced Breast Cancer and COVID-19.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The AdvancedBreastCancer.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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