“Dr. Beck, do you think any of us will die?”
I spent part of the day doing phone call appointments with patients isolating themselves at home. Not all the questions were easy ones. This question was asked twice and I think I am learning how to answer.
When I think about answering this question, I remember all the time I spent with my sister when she was dying and how being with her was a reminder of how precious each moment is with the people you love. Because of this, I can find an answer to the question.
“We never know how long we’ll live – any one of us could get killed tomorrow. I’m glad you want to live, so you’ll understand why you need to follow the advice to stay in the house and avoid crowds and wash your hands.”
“Dr. Beck, you always tell people to wash their hands.”
“Did you think I was kidding? Now someone else is saying the same thing and now you believe it?”
“Come on, Dr. Beck, do you think I’m going to die of COVID?”
“I think you’re young and healthy and there’s much less chance that you would die than an older person would die, but I hope you’ll follow all the advice of the public health doctors, because people of all ages are dying around the world. I don’t want you to die, neither do your family and friends so, please look after yourself. You need to isolate at home, you need to keep 2 metres between yourself and other people and…”
“I know, I know. I need to wash my hands. This is dangerous, isn’t it?”
“It is dangerous.” It’s always a good idea to tell the truth.
“Are you frightened?”
“I am, actually.” It’s always a good idea to tell the truth.
“What are you going to do?”
“I am a lot older than you, so there is a greater risk for me. I am going to be extra, extra careful about infection. I’m going to constantly remind everyone I love and everyone I look after and work with to LOOK AFTER THEMSELVES and to FOLLOW ADVICE. I am going to give out lots of information about the advice and be a real pest about the advice. I’ll probably also wash my hands more than ever.”
I have had two variations of this conversation now and it seems to work. The best evidence that I have of this was this brightly spoken final word:
“So, you’re just going to be your usual self?” There’s a pause on the line and then I heard the second half of the thought. “I know you’re totally rolling your eyes right now.”
I am wishing for lots of days in the next few months when my patients make me roll my eyes…
(This is a picture of my daughter’s feet on a beach in Connecticut, taken when I went to visit her at college. She had found that heart-shaped rock. Each day, I am going to find a special picture to help me hold the people that I love in my heart.)