Doctor Contracts COVID-19 with Atypical Symptoms

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Dr. Luft with his family on vacation

At first, Dr. Thomas Luft chalked up his sniffles to seasonal allergies. 

“Simply due to coincidence, I was on paid time off from work, and that whole week I had some stuffiness. I thought it was weird the antihistamines weren’t working. As I was preparing to get back to work, I realized I had an in-person meeting scheduled. My throat was a little scratchy by then, so I decided to call-in instead of going in-person.”

After calling employee health, they decided to go ahead with testing even though Luft didn’t have a fever and wasn’t coughing. The next day, his test came back positive for COVID-19. Because Dr. Luft’s symptoms were so mild at first, he felt a sense of relief. 

“I thought, this COVID thing isn’t too bad. Now I can get it over with and develop some immunity,” he says.

On day six, Dr. Luft was still feeling pretty good and didn’t have any other symptoms other than the initial stuffiness. But as the day went on, his wife noticed he was breathing harder. 

“I didn’t think anything of it, but after dinner, I got very short of breath.”

His breathing got worse quickly and Dr. Luft immediately went to the emergency room for help. 

“I should have called an ambulance. It was all pretty scary. I realized I was in trouble. When I walked in, the registration staff was busy. I told them I was really short of breath and needed help now. They got me right back into a room,” he says.

The medical staff quickly assessed his oxygen levels and checked him over. The ER doctor examined him right away and ordered oxygen and fluids. They found inflammation in his lungs, and he was admitted and hospitalized for four days, receiving an IV with remdesivir, the antiviral shown to shorten the length of COVID-19 symptoms, and continuing oxygen support. He was fortunate to never be put on a ventilator and confirms that he never developed a temperature from the virus.

“I’m 44 years-old and pretty healthy. I haven’t really had any major medical problems. This was the first time I was really scared and thought it could be the end. I don’t mean to be overdramatic, but that’s the thought that crossed my mind. I started thinking about all my patients who had to be intubated, and the ones who didn’t survive and conversations with family. I thought about people having that conversation with my family.”

Thankfully, daily x-rays showed his condition was improving and he was beginning to stabilize. When he was released to go home, his symptoms remained uncomfortable enough to send him back to the ER for a quick visit, but soon, his body started to heal.   

Reflecting on his time in the hospital, Dr. Luft said he always felt like he mattered. “I received exceptional care—ranging from the housekeepers to nursing staff to hospitalists. I really felt like they had my best interests at heart and that helped to calm my anxiety.”

Dr. Luft suspects he caught COVID while examining patients in his office. He admits that prior to his diagnosis, he was experiencing some emotional and mental fatigue related to COVID. It’s a fatigue he knows others in the medical field and in public are also experiencing. 

“You become numb after hearing about it all the time. It becomes so conflicting, because in the media there was a lot of attention early on. Then, thankfully, the curve flattened. I think it’s human nature to say, ‘OK, it wasn’t so bad.’”

Dr. Luft says besides his recent experience with COVID, he’s only had one other near-death experience in his life. It happened while surfing. After getting used to the ebbs and flows of the ocean waves, he stopped paying attention to what was coming and was pummeled down to the ocean floor.

“I look back and think about how I should have been more vigilant about COVID-19, kind of like in the ocean when the wave was coming. Even as things are opening back up, we still need to be vigilant to keep ourselves safe. I shouldn’t have turned my back on the wave, and we shouldn’t turn our backs on COVID.”