Grand Rapids, Michigan (CNN) — When the coronavirus first struck in March, Dr. David Burkard found himself having some of the most difficult conversations of his life.
He had to let patients know when it was time to say goodbye to their families.
“The difficult thing is having to be the person who talks to the covid patient, who says: ‘You know what? Time to call your wife. We’re going to have to put in a breathing tube and it’s time for you to say goodbye, ‘”Burkard said.
It was a message that the ER doctor had to convey over and over again as the pandemic spread through the summer and shorter days of fall.
Burkard, 28, in his third year of residency at Spectrum Health Systems in Grand Rapids, Michigan, did what he had to do to stay safe. He wore protective gear at work, a mask in his spare time and maintained social distance, he says.
He ran five days a week, played and coached volleyball, ate a healthy diet, and had no major underlying problems. If it got infected, he thought, it would be fine.
“In fact, at one point I thought, ‘I want to get the virus and get it over with,'” he told CNN. “I thought there was no real chance that I would have to be hospitalized. I am a healthy young man.
‘I just couldn’t breathe’
And then came the illness and the positive result of covid-19.
It started with a fever and a cough, and Burkard felt bad, but after three days things improved markedly. He knew that younger people could get very sick from the virus, but it seemed like he had dodged that bullet. Then came day six.
«I got out of bed. I went to make a sandwich and I moved around my apartment a bit and couldn’t catch my breath, ”Burkard said. I just couldn’t breathe.
He tested his own oxygen levels and knew, as did his colleagues when he called, that he had to be admitted.
He went to his own hospital, where many things were familiar but many were new and terrifying things.
The isolation and loneliness of entering the covid-19 unit. The suffocating feeling of being out of breath. The fear. Everything was there, with no friends or family to ease their worries.
“I’m literally at work where I have a lot of friends and colleagues and not a single one of them could come over and just say hi,” Burkard said. “I couldn’t be more grateful to the nurses, phlebotomists, and doctors who continued to treat me with a smile underneath their masks.”
Burkard doesn’t know how he got the virus, but he knows it’s not a joke. Two weeks after testing positive, she still cannot walk without having trouble breathing.
He has stayed home, where he has had time to see the reactions on social media to his diagnosis from those who still do not believe in the reality of a virus that has killed more than 250,000 Americans and infected 11 million more.
“Many people have told me… that I am a hoax. Someone reported me on Facebook for being a fake profile, “he said.
He hopes that some people will reflect upon their experience.
Instead of just saying mean things from behind the keyboard, imagine what it’s like to have that conversation with someone you were putting a breathing tube down their throat and they might not be able to say ‘I love you’ to their beloved one more time. “, said.
Burkard says he loves being an ER doctor and lights up when he talks about going back to work. That will have to wait until you are strong enough for the intense and grueling shifts. Meanwhile, he feels guilty knowing that his colleagues are working so hard as the coronavirus affects more and more people.
The positivity rate in Michigan increased to 11.6% this week, according to Johns Hopkins University. Their cases are skyrocketing and so are their hospitalizations.
Burkard says there are 300 Covid-19 patients at Spectrum Health, the area’s leading health system. It’s the most they’ve had since the pandemic began, he adds.
Burkard’s interview with CNN was the first time he left his self-isolation in his apartment after leaving the hospital. You no longer have the virus, but any activity is still really difficult.
“I needed this. It’s good to see people again, ”Burkard said, a little out of breath as he began to walk the short distance home.
He asked everyone to follow the recommendations: stay home, wear a mask, social distancing outdoors, and skip the Thanksgiving gathering to save lives and celebrate later.
And he hopes he can serve as a warning.
“There is a lot more we don’t know about this virus,” Burkard said. “Don’t risk it no matter how healthy you are.”
CNN’s Jake Carpenter contributed to this report.