How does a medical professional deal with a COVID-19 diagnosis? With research, obviously.
Trauma surgeon Dr. Buck Parker, MD recently made a video discussing how he coped with his COVID-19 diagnosis, and concerns about how bad the disease would be.
“That’s one of the things I thought of when I got COVID. Like, ‘Oh shit, am I going to die from this?’” Dr. Parker says in the video.
Of course, those who’ve had COVID probably had a similar thought process upon first noticing symptoms or getting a diagnosis. But Dr. Parker was aware of a paper from Johns Hopkins University that took a careful, scientific look at disease trajectories among people with COVID-19. In his case, he found the research reassuring. “Because I had known about this study and had been looking at the data since this all started, I wasn’t too concerned,” he says about his risk of a severe outcome. “But it certainly was at the back of my mind.”
Parker says he first noticed symptoms in early October, which developed into fevers and chills for about a week and an ongoing headache for several days ("like I had a hangover"). He also experienced chest discomfort and a hoarse voice, as evidenced in his video. But the doctor says he had no shortness of breath or sore throat.
Due to his job, he got a rapid test the day after he started exhibiting symptoms, which came back positive. Dr. Parker, who made the video in Day 10 of his COVID-19 quarantine, says his symptoms are almost gone.
Dr. Parker added, “At no time did I have respiratory symptoms and think I was going to die." And the Johns Hopkins research gave him some reassurance on that.
What the research showed
Parker is referencing a September 2020 paper that collected data from 832 consecutive COVID-19 patients at five Johns Hopkins hospitals during the early pandemic. Of these hospitalized patients, 171 (20 percent) had severe symptoms, while 523 (63 percent) had mild to moderate. Among the patients studied, 694 were discharged (83 percent) and 131 died (16 percent) died.
It looked at individual risk factors and outcomes to create a model—the COVID-19 Inpatient Risk Calculator— predicting who would experience severe COVID symptoms or even death. Defining factors for a patient’s likely experience with COVID-19 include age and physiology, as well preexisting conditions. Some defining factors used in the model include age, nursing home residence, existing chronic or serious conditions, obesity, respiratory symptoms and rate, fever, white blood cell count and others.
When accounting for these certain COVID-19 risk factors, the model is said to be 85 percent accurate in the first two days, and 80 percent accurate over the first week.
“There’s a very specific cohort of people who do poorly with COVID and we should be paying attention to them,” he says. “If we put more resources into protecting those patients than all the resources protecting all the people … then you can focus your resources on the right patients. I think that’s a smarter way to go.”
It is worth noting that remarkably healthy patients have experienced severe COVID-19, and some have died. While the model is deemed to be a pretty accurate predictor, it still admittedly falls short in accurate predicting outcomes in 20 percent of cases.
Regardless, Dr. Parker said he found it easier to tackle his diagnosis armed with the knowledge from the model and how it compares with his own risk factors (he explains that he's fairly low risk for a severe outcome).
“To say ‘Holy crap, everyone is going to die of COVID’ is irresponsible,” Parker says to close out his video. “But it is also irresponsible to say you should ignore it because it’s a bullshit disease and it’s a hoax.”
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