Last week, amidst the COVID-19 shelter-at-home miasma, I was reviewing patient charts, trying to check-in with as many as I could, when a message arrived from one of my dearest patients, Mr. S. A normally affable and jesting 65-year-old gentleman, Mr. S. was requesting an urgent phone call, reporting he wasn’t doing well. I had previously promised Mr. S. that I’d call in any exigency, knowing that he suffered from diabetes, high blood pressure, recurrent infections, and deafness — leaving him not only at high risk of complications from COVID-19, but also complications from his pre-existing medical conditions. Through an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter, I asked Mr. S. what was going on. “Nothing,” he said, belying his usual garrulous self. I probed a bit further. “Nothing. I’m just…I’m just isolated.”
Over the next 15 minutes, I came to discover that Mr. S. not only hadn’t left his house in two weeks out of precaution for the virus, he’d barely left his couch; the wheel on his bariatric 4-wheel walker had broken, and the bus to the medical supplies shop that could fix it would drop him off too far from the entrance for him to get there. He didn’t have money for an uber or any healthy friends in this crisis to drive him there. He was accustomed to taking care of things himself and prided himself on his independence. But given the circumstances, he hadn’t had human contact in two weeks. He revealed his worries about his increasing weight gain from not being able to leave the couch. “Frustrated. I’m just frustrated and lonely,” he told me.
Lots of the craze for COVID-19 has been about the inundated emergency rooms and hospitals. This is very real and deserves media attention. But we shouldn’t forget the impact this is also having on basic, day-to-day health for all of our friends, family, and community members. When I think of COVID-19, I think as much about Mr. S. as I do about my friends and patients in the hospital. Now is the time to pick up the phone and call a neighbor, a distant friend or a relative, and check in with one another. Perhaps COVID-19 can serve as an invitation for us to embody what it means to be a true friend.