When I tweeted my first COVID-related tweet, I probably hadn’t tweeted in three years. I think I had 40-something followers. It was kind of off-the-cuff on my morning commute. The news up until that point had been mostly about anticipating a surge, but when the surge hit our hospitals here in New York, I felt like the press might have missed the moment that it happened. I realized that no one would know what was happening on the ground unless we started speaking. It’s a very unnatural position for doctors to take, because there’s an unspoken credo about keeping what’s going on at the hospital private. But I wanted to get the word out about how bad it had become and was likely to continue to be. The night after I sent my initial tweets, everything went viral—Rachel Maddow retweeted my entire thread and it was read out on CNN.
I never anticipated or was seeking that kind of attention. It was nerve-racking. But my superiors within the hospital system understood what I was trying to do, and saw the value in it. And other doctors from within our hospital system started putting out similar tweets describing their own experiences.
I think it’s important, especially while the media is not allowed inside of hospitals because of the infection risk, for those inside to provide first-person accounts. It’s obviously a balance, because we have to protect patient privacy. Describing it from our perspective helps people understand that it’s not just about numbers of ICU admissions or intubations; it’s about the patients themselves, who are real people, and those taking care of them, who are also real people going through something incredibly traumatic. I hope that offering that perspective helps people understand on a human level the importance of getting the response to the virus right.
I’m not sure if I’ll keep tweeting. There are upsides and downsides to it, but my career is more about my clinical work and research than being a voice on social media.
Some parts of this pandemic have felt extraordinary, other parts entirely ordinary. We went into medicine to take care of sick patients in difficult circumstances. This has in some ways brought medicine back to its most basic tenets. It really has been affirming to practice medicine in the way that we all envisioned doing it.
Dr. Meredith Case ’10, third-year resident in internal medicine, New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center