A man with glasses and a face mask around his neck
Ruter recalls a patient who had good vital signs and seemed well. “We decided to let him go home again.”

Going to work is different now. I spend more time, I go in earlier. Each health care provider has to find a balance and a comfort level when it comes to feeling like he or she is keeping the family safe. Whereas I used to go to work in scrubs, I now go to work in plainclothes, and then I change into scrubs while at the hospital. It feels like a large part of the day now is just donning and doffing personal protective equipment.

We have been cautiously optimistic here in Seattle. We were the initial epicenter for the first part of March, but we haven’t seen anything close to the surge in places like New York and Boston.

The one case that stands out for me is a young gentleman in his early 20s that I had seen on his second emergency visit. He had been seen two or three days earlier, had tested negative for COVID. And then he came back with similar flulike symptoms. Because he had good vital signs and clinically appeared well, we decided to let him go home again. I remember personally checking on him, making sure he felt comfortable about going home. And then he came back a couple of days later, only to be admitted. Twenty-four hours later, he was intubated. So he’s in his young 20s, no previous medical history. He was doing well on mechanical ventilation, and the notes suggested that he was going to undergo what’s called a spontaneous breathing trial, where they were going to take him off of mechanical ventilation. But he succumbed to complications and ultimately died. And that was just a moment for me, knowing that I had cared for him during this time. And how mysterious this thing is. Those that are being seriously affected tend to trend toward being older, with comorbidities. But yet, you’re seeing some young, healthy individuals get really, really sick and even die. I should note that when he was eventually admitted, they tested him again, and sure enough he was positive for COVID.

Cases like that one are going to stay with me forever, probably. This disease is insidious. It can affect anybody, and that’s what scares a lot of people.

Dr. Shane Ruter ’98, clinical assistant professor in emergency medicine, University of Washington, Seattle