Panic Attacks and Sleepless Nights: Doctors Are Secretly Starting to Struggle

for Vice

Maya woke up drenched in sweat. It was April 3, and she had just read an article that had shaken her to the core. New research indicated that blood clots could lead to potentially fatal COVID-19 complications, a scientific discovery that frightened Maya, who is genetically predisposed to blood clots herself. Now, there she was, in her home, shaking, and struggling to breathe. “I’m either having a panic attack or I have coronavirus,” Maya remembers telling her husband.

It was a panic attack—just the second of her life. And the concern was warranted. Maya is an emergency room doctor in her 30s at a New York hospital, and by then she had been treating COVID-19 patients for weeks. It had become increasingly clear just how many “young, healthy people”—around her age—“were coming in with serious disease,” she said. The prospect of contracting a virus that could kill her had already started to wear on her; the blood clots simply put her over the edge.

She didn’t hide her panic attack at work. In fact, she told everyone about it. “But I made a joke about it,” said Maya, who like most of the health care workers in this article, asked that VICE not use her real name.

“Many people here think it’s a sign of weakness to outwardly display anxiety or depression,” she explained. “We’re supposed to bottle that up and make jokes about it instead.”

“I’m either having a panic attack or I have coronavirus.”

For a while now, Maya has quietly struggled with the mental effects of fighting the novel coronavirus. “You come home from work and it’s not like you can forget about everything that happened,” she said. “Sometimes, I think about COVID during sex.”

By early April, Max, an ER doctor at Elmhurst public hospital in Queens, was only able to sleep two to three hours a night because of his anxious thoughts about the virus, which had ravaged the patients in his hospital, at one point killing 13 people in one 24-hour span. When he did sleep, the coronavirus seeped into his dreams too, with patients replaced by family members and co-workers. “In one shift, I would put a dozen people on ventilators,” he recalled. “And half of them ended up dying.”

The worst part, Max said, was that the dreams might as well have been real. (continued)

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Katie MacBride is a freelance journalist, essayist, and co-founder/associate editor of Anxy magazine. Her work has appeared in Rolling Stone, The Daily Beast, Vice, Playboy, and Buzzfeed, among other publications. Follow her on Twitter: @msmacb

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