Paul Jarrod Frank, MD, is a renowned cosmetic dermatologist with offices in New York City, the Hamptons, and Miami, and a robust celebrity clientele. (His biggest fan is none other than Madonna, who trusted him to help formulate her MDNA Skin line.) On Thursday, April 2, Dr. Frank revealed in an Instagram Live that he had been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus. “This is one of the many faces of COVID-19,” he said.
Here, Dr. Frank discusses his experience with the illness, his recovery process, and how he’s using social media to educate others on the pandemic. This interview was told to Rachel Krause and has been edited for length and clarity.
The week of March 15th was when we all started realizing it was time to close shop. People were still coming in for Botox, fillers, rashes, all the things that seem so frivolous now. I was run down, sleeping only two or three hours a night. I wasn’t feeling sick; I thought it was just stress. That Thursday, I drove to my Long Island home where my family had been for a week because schools were closed already. On that ride out, I just knew something wasn’t right. I went straight into isolation to protect my family. The next day, I woke up with a 103.5 fever, and spent the next four days living with terrible headaches, pain, body aches, sweats, chills, fever, and delirium. But I had no cough until day five or six — and that’s when the breathing problems started.
I was able to get a pulse oximeter from my office, and from that reading I knew I was developing pneumonia. The pulse oximeter, which you can get from Rite Aid or CVS, is the most important tool to have in your house — it’s really there to tell you if you need critical care. I said to my wife, “We have to get back to Manhattan.” The closest hospital in Long Island didn’t have an intensive care unit, and I knew I needed to be near my hospital, Mount Sinai, which I live a block away from. I knew I needed medical attention. Someone who works for my family risked their life for me knowing that I was sick and drove me in, covered in plastic in the back of their car, so that my wife could drive my kids separately. I got home and my doctor called in asthma nebulizers for me because I was having problems breathing; my O2 stats were dipping below 90, which is a sign you need oxygen.
Because I have a surgical facility in my office, I have oxygen tanks, so I had staff of mine drop them off. I started the nebulizers and I started taking oxygen when I needed it. If it wasn’t for my medical background, there’s no question I would be in the hospital. I was so fearful because the hospitals were getting overwhelmed, and once you get in the hospital, that’s it: no visitors, no contact, no comforts of home. I was in total quarantine in my daughter’s room, but I had food dropped off outside the door, hot tea, my wife in gloves and a mask bringing clean towels in. I was so blessed to have that comfort, and I really think it made a big difference in my recovery.
On day 12, my fever broke. I’d started taking hydroxychloroquine and a Z-Pak from my doctor, but I honestly don’t know if it was the medicine or if it was just my time to improve. Being afebrile has made me feel a lot better, and my cough is much, much less. But I’m just weak, I’m beaten up — I lost 10 pounds. My brain keeps telling me, You’re okay now, you can work, you can do this and that, but I can’t. I go walk outside for a quarter of a mile and I’m shot afterwards.
Now, posting Instagram videos is part of my own healing to keep my mind busy. There’s nothing more important when you go through something like this than to try and help. The most difficult part of the disease for me wasn’t the fevers or the breathing, but the anxiety of going through something that you don’t have any point of reference of other people going through this. Until I know I’m immune and I can actually get on the front lines and donate blood and maybe help out at Mount Sinai, the best I can do is just to try and educate. I think a lot of people are afraid to watch the news, and when they do watch the news they don’t know what to believe. I don’t claim to be a world expert on COVID-19 — I’m a dermatologist. But I am a physician and I think what we need right now, beyond statistics and polling, is good, solid anecdotal medical advice, whether you’re a pulmonologist or an ER doctor or a dermatologist.
Of course, the next question is, when are we getting back to life? There are three essential things that are going to get us there: ensuring that hospitals can handle the load of people who are still getting sick, ensuring we’re able to track the people that are sick and the epidemiology of seeing where they’re sick and who they’re in contact with, and ensuring that there’s a 14-day period where we’ve seen a total downward trend of all the numbers. We can’t even think about getting back into life until we feel we’ve come over that peak.
We’re all getting stir-crazy, but we just need to focus on the blessing of being healthy and doing whatever we can. We all have to assume we’re sick, and stay away from other people and practice very strict social distancing. COVID-19 tests could be up to 40% false negative. If everyone just walks around pretending they’re positive, we’re gonna be okay. There’s no question in my mind that those who have been sick and that are immune are going to be the leaders in bringing us back. The more people that are immune means that it provides more herd immunity. I wasn’t tested while I was sick — my doctor and I assumed based on the symptoms I had — but got tested on day 18 and am confirmed negative. Now I’ll be able to hug my children and feel comfortable to go donate blood and start volunteering.
We just have to keep educating people. Unfortunately, only 41 states are on lockdown, and people are stubborn. People who can work will work — I get it. That last week, I was like, I gotta work! My staff! My business! My money! My patients! These are all normal reactions. I’m so fortunate and so blessed that not only did none of my family members get sick but not a single staff member got sick and not a single patient that has called or we’ve gotten in contact with has said that they came down with it.
I’m healing slowly. I wish my body would keep up with my mind, but unfortunately it’s not quite working like that. I’m gonna keep posting online, and I’m gonna keep talking. I think in the next few days we’ll have a lot more information about immunity and plasma donations from people who’ve had it. So where did I get it? I don’t know, I don’t care. We have to stop thinking about where we got it — and start thinking about how not to spread it.
COVID-19 has been declared a global pandemic. Go to the CDC website for the latest information on symptoms, prevention, and other resources.
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