Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service
Op Ed

What My Patients Need to Know

A family physician offers his candid thoughts on COVID-19.

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Dr. Bryan Johnston. Photo from NNS.

Dr. Bryan Johnston. Photo from NNS.

I hope you are OK. I worry that you’re not.

When COVID-19 reached our community last week, everything changed in the healthcare world.

We had watched this virus overwhelm healthcare systems around the world. We knew that a single positive case meant that many more were circulating in the community. And we knew that as our patients became ill, they would come to our clinics and hospitals for care. Because of how infectious this novel coronavirus is, this meant that our clinics and hospitals had become risky places for you to visit.

We are working to contact our patients by phone to check in. We are asking questions like, “How are you holding up?” Do you have a fever, cough or trouble breathing? What questions can we answer for you about the coronavirus? Do you have enough food? Do you have enough of your medications? How are you doing psychologically? With thousands of patients these conversations will take time. And when things are changing daily, or even hourly, there is no perfect way to keep you informed.

I will miss seeing you in clinic for a while.

The best part of my job is spending time with my patients. We’ve been through a lot together, both medically and otherwise. In many cases we know about each other’s families, about our lives outside the exam room. There is something unique about those relationships, and on a good day in clinic, it can feel like I’ve spent the morning checking in on old friends.

Please understand it is hard for me to say this, but I do not want to see you until it is safe again—which could be for the next few weeks to months.

We are asking our patients to stay home except for certain types of urgent visits, such as infant checkups 2 months of age or younger, acute and significant injuries, abdominal pain, diarrhea, or vomiting. This is especially true for the populations who are at extra risk, such as those age 60 and over, those with heart or lung diseases, those with HIV or who are otherwise immunocompromised.

A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself: “Can this wait or be taken care of over the phone?” If the answer is yes, then consider not coming in. We understand.

There aren’t enough test kits. We are as frustrated as you are.

Most clinics do not have COVID-19 test kits. “Drive-through” test sites are being developed in an effort to protect non-infected patients, but as of writing I am not aware of any active in Milwaukee.

At the moment we are referring patients with symptoms of fever, cough, and shortness of breath, or exposure to someone who has tested positive to COVID-19, to the Riverwoods Urgent Care center, 375 W. River Woods Pkwy., Glendale, WI 53212, 414-326-1500, or the Columbia St. Mary’s Ozaukee Hospital, 13111 N. Port Washington Rd., Mequon, WI 53097, 262-243-7373.

Patients are advised to call before going to confirm availability and qualifications for testing, as these are changing rapidly. If a patient is seen at one of these locations and COVID-19 testing is done, I am told results should return in 1 to 5 days. Your doctor’s office can help direct you further and keep you updated as testing sites come online.

Stay safe. It’s going to get worse before it gets better.

Because of the severe limitation of testing supplies, it is really hard to feel confident about knowing who may be infected. Take social distancing seriously to minimize risk of exposure to and spread of infection.

Young healthy people at low risk for developing severe illness have a responsibility to protect themselves from illness in order to protect their elderly or ill family and community members.

Here are some resources to keep up with current recommendations, and advice about how to approach different situations, like travel, work, and school:

Be kind to yourself and others.

“We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” –Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

We are learning now, more than ever, that the health of each is part of the health of all. We will get through this together, not alone.

This story was originally published by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, where you can find other stories reporting on fifteen city neighborhoods in Milwaukee.

Dr. Bryan Johnston is a family physician working on the North Side of Milwaukee

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