The coronavirus tried to kill me, but my body returned the favor. When the virus entered my body, it invaded cells, hijacking the control centers. It seized the factory and replicated to create more assailants. The virus swarmed, infecting new cells. My violated cells became zombies, forced to create viral clones, some escaping to wreak havoc elsewhere, in another human.
My body used an array of weapons in battle. The correct antibody eventually found the virus, breaking the enemy’s code. My defenders responded to the initial skirmish by duplicating the antibody, a weapon perfectly matching its foe. Antibodies, also called immunoglobulin, marked the virus for destruction. My temperature increased, the fever creating an inhospitable environment for the clone army. White blood cells hunted down the virus and destroyed infected cells faster than the virus could replicate, eventually vanquishing the enemy.
I was probably infected by an asymptomatic person. Up to half of people with the virus have no symptoms. People with COVID-19 have an enormous amount of viral shedding in the first few days of the infection, before developing significant symptoms. This coronavirus is different that way, a sneaky foe.
Fights usually injure everyone involved. The live virus was probably eradicated in the first week of my infection but this battle-weary body was far from well, the effects of warfare lingering long after conflict ended.
By many estimates, Blaine County has the highest rate of infection in the nation. This ripped through our valley like an unchecked wildfire.
How did this happen? Why here? Why us?
Here’s my take on it: people stood in winding security lines to board crowded planes. They came to ski and enjoy this gorgeous place we call home. At first glimpse, skiing would seem low risk for contagion because we ski outside in crisp mountain air. But we spend the bulk of our time sitting shoulder to shoulder on a metal contraption that churns slowly up the hill. Tourists come in groups and socialize, celebrating life. They go to music events, restaurants and bars. So do we.
The most zealous tourists move here and become locals. We are them, and they are us. I meet them every day in the Emergency Department—wonderful, interesting folks. I’m proud to live in a place that others want to visit.
But for now, people need to stay away, for their sakes and ours. This dastardly pestilence uses our best human traits against us: love and friendship. We must decrease our rate of infection to defeat this enemy as fast as possible. Our beautiful valley will eventually defeat this plague, allowing visitors to return. The economy will rebound. The birds will chirp and life will return to normal. This will soon be over.
It's a well-known phenomenon that humans react more strongly to a new threat than an existing one. And this is a new threat. But blind fear isn’t productive. We are at war with an incredibly lethal and contagious virus. Let us fight smart, not scared. Let’s choose to be brave. Attack rather than react, anticipating problems and creating solutions before they happen.
A recent model created by the University of Washington predicts peak hospital resource use. In New York, with an infection rate similar to Blaine County, the peak is April 9. In Idaho it’s May 1. In the US, April 15 is the predicted peak.
I’ve been asked, “What can I do to help?” My answer: don’t get sick. The only fight you really win is the fight you avoid. If everyone stayed home for two weeks and froze in place, this could be over. All of the virus would die and we could go back to normal life. But a worldwide freeze isn’t going to happen and the virus will continue to spread.
You know what to do. Stay home. Treat every public surface as contaminated. Wash your hands frequently. Don’t touch your face. Avoid crowds. Don’t shake hands. Howl at the moon.
The battle is raging and I fear the worst is yet to come. What has saved us from being overwhelmed thus far is our ability to transfer patients to sister hospitals in Boise and Twin. Our hospital has done an incredible job rising to this unfathomable challenge, as has the St Luke’s Health System. Local fire departments have stepped up to the plate, assisting with transfers. Our entire community has rallied, problem solving and working together. Hearing neighbors howl like wolves in support of our health care workers the past few nights brought tears to my eyes. We live in a special place.
I’ve been cleared to return to work. Coronavirus took its best shot at me and failed. Now I’m rejoining the battle, in a war that we will most certainly win. We are resilient, strong and determined people.
We got this.
Dr. Brent Russell is an emergency physician at St. Luke’s Wood River in Ketchum. This is his second piece for the Idaho Mountain Express. Look for future installments of his Doctor’s Journal in upcoming editions of the newspaper.