Editor’s note: The Virus Diaries is a series in which Mainers talk about how they are affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

Dr. Edward Fels: “Of course, there’s concern for one’s welfare, but it’s calming to just focus on the task at hand.” Photo courtesy of Edward Fels

Dr. Edward Fels, 47, is a rheumatologist who works in Portland and lives in Cape Elizabeth. He told the Press Herald last week about the risks of his job, the mindset of health care professionals, and even a routine experience that many of us have shared as “strangers in strange times.”

“I stopped by The Standard Baking Company this morning (on my way to work). A small part of me felt guilty, as though I was committing a crime,” Fels said. “Not a dietary crime, but some sort of societal transgression. I want to support local businesses, who are obviously suffering. I also like croissants.

“I’m fortunately or unfortunately still working. A majority of the people I treat are impacted by COVID-19 in some capacity. They are immunocompromised. Without certain medications they’re at risk of flaring (exacerbation of a condition), which places them at risk for needing increased health care services from a system that is already taxed.

“I’m cognizant of not passing something to them and vice versa. The whole situation is a Catch-22. We try to control autoimmunity by down-regulating the immune system sufficiently so that a particular therapy is effective, yet not excessively such that it results in complications. A global pandemic throws a wrench into these mechanizations.

“I don’t consider myself on the front lines. Sure, I’m at risk and I’m increasingly exposed to a variety of people, but so is the cashier at the local supermarket. Things could happen and my life could change quickly.

“However, there are professionals at all levels of health care who are routinely placing themselves in harm’s way. They include physicians, nurses, EMTs and first responders, respiratory therapists, phlebotomists, medical assistants, physicians assistants and nurse practitioners and radiology techs. They’re not heroes. They’re just doing what they’re trained and expected to do.

“Despite the oddity of the circumstances we are now confronting, there’s a bizarre normalcy from my physician perspective. I’d like to think it’s our training or some inherent character trait or, perhaps, a personality flaw. Most of us at some point in our careers, and often on numerous occasions, have dealt with the (stuff) hitting the proverbial fan.

“We’ve watched people die and felt ribs crack mercilessly beneath our hands during futile chest compressions. Some of us have been present for the delivery of a preterm newborn, whose only chance for survival is your success at endotracheal intubation. These accruing experiences more or less anesthetize us to surrounding chaos, while simultaneously honing our skills. Of course, there’s concern for one’s welfare, but it’s calming to just focus on the task at hand.

Customers keep their distance from one another while queuing up outside The Standard Baking Company in Portland. Photo courtesy of Edwards Fels

“Earlier this morning, I had a menial and rather pedestrian task. I wanted to stop by The Standard Baking Company to grab a croissant before heading to the office. I was aware they were changing things to account for pandemic conditions. You place your order while standing outside. You pay, and then they hand you your items through a separate door. It was antiseptically pleasing. We queued in line, maintaining a healthy distance between one another, strangers in strange times.”

Do you have a story to share about how you are affected by the coronavirus outbreak? Email us at [email protected]

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