‘I thought I was invincible’: Vancouver hospital ER doctor contracts COVID-19

VANCOUVER — As emergency room physicians began testing patients for COVID-19, Joseph Finkler often used two masks to cover his face and nose.

The Vancouer doctor figured that was why he couldn’t smell the strong odours in the St. Paul’s Hospital ER, or the cherry blossoms that had started to bloom outside.

Finkler had a cough and was fatigued, but chalked that up to working long nights in the ER. Only when the fever and chills started in late March did the 62-year-old doctor consider the possibility he had contracted the virus himself.

But he was still skeptical.

“Why would I get this coronavirus? I’m wearing all this gear, and I thought I was invincible,” said Finkler.

At the urging of his family, he visited a drive-thru pop-up clinic for health-care workers. His test came back positive.

“I absolutely feel concerned I may have transmitted to colleagues and patients,” said Finkler. “I had to submit a whole roster of patients to make sure they could trace contacts.”

He does not know of any sick colleagues or patients who have been traced back to his infection.

Finkler was also concerned about his daughter, who works as a palliative care nurse. He quarantined himself at his Vancouver home, and his wife and children have not shown any symptoms.

He has recovered from a mild version of the virus, and hopes to be back in the ER on Thursday.

“I’m ready to go back to work,” said Finkler. “I want to be out there and do the work with my colleagues. I don’t want them to pick up slack for me, and I want to be part of the solution because I was a little bit of the problem, bringing it home and potentially spreading it to other people.”

The doctor will return to St. Paul’s Hospital with a new appreciation for the virus he thought he could never catch.

“I will be more suspicious about the illness, I will be more sympathetic to patients, and I will also realize this virus is insidious and it spreads easily,” said Finkler.

 

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