What It’s Like to be a Doctor on the COVID Frontline

I’m eternally grateful to all the brave doctors, nurses, and frontline workers who are facing COVID-19 head-on every day. One of them is my husband’s cousin Jeremy Padalecki, who is an ER physician. He works in freestanding emergency rooms throughout Texas, including in Corpus Christi, Austin, Round Rock, and Bryan. 

Personally, watching Jeremy graduate from medical school and witnessing him become the doctor he is today, I can attest to his ability to blend his expertise in medicine with his wonderful, kind, and empathetic bedside manner. When he dishes out medical advice, we listen. He was the perfect person to find out what it’s like to be a doctor on the COVID frontline. 

COVID-19 cases in the US just keep going up—with Texas being a particular hot spot—so I wanted to get Jeremy’s thoughts on the novel virus, how it has changed his work and family life, and what he wished people knew right now. (Hint: Wear a mask!)

Since he’s so busy with work, Jeremy answered these questions via email. I so appreciate him taking the time out of his busy schedule to share his insights with this community. Please read on and stay safe this holiday weekend. And remember what the CDC recommends: stay home if you can, wear a mask when you are out, wash your hands frequently, and maintain six feet of distance from people not in your household. 

What are you currently seeing in terms of COVID?

Prior to approximately two or three weeks ago, I had not seen one documented case of COVID-19. Now, at least 10 to 15 percent of the patients I have been testing for COVID-19 are positive, with that percentage going up with every shift I work. We have seen patients with little to no symptoms, others with flu-like symptoms, to the patient who needs supplemental oxygen because of hypoxia (low O2 levels) who happens to also have large blood clots in the legs (which we are seeing as a result of what COVID can do to your blood).

Things are definitely getting worse. For the past three months I have feared that places like San Antonio and Corpus Christi were going to be hit very hard because of the underlying chronic health conditions that the majority of the population there has. Obesity, diabetes, COPD, heart disease are very common in those areas.

What are your shifts currently like?

Prior to the surge of patients with COVID-19, I was working 24-hour shifts, and we were averaging 15 patients per day at most sites. Since the surge, I am mainly doing 12-hour shifts, and we are seeing anywhere from 50 to 100 patients per day. We seem to have enough PPE for now, but I don’t know if that will be true in the near future with the number of cases increasing so drastically.  

Texas is a hot spot right now. Are things better or worse than you think most people know?

Things are definitely worse than most people think. I can tell immediately the way a person votes when they get to the ER and they talk to me about their feelings regarding COVID-19. I am dumbfounded by the way people’s political leanings are guiding their thoughts about COVID-19. Instead of listening to epidemiologists, doctors, nurses, and hospital staff who are seeing how this is different from the flu, they are listening to whatever spin their political party is trying to put on this pandemic.

When you do go out and you see people without masks, what do you wish they knew?

I wish people would just have some common courtesy and wear a mask if you are in a public space. The simplest answer is usually the right answer. I understand that conspiracies are sexy and intriguing, but do people really think it’s a grand conspiracy to take away our rights as Americans? There are no arguments that I have heard that make any sense about not wearing masks based on medical or scientific reasoning. People say, “The masks don’t keep the virus out.” But they also say, “I can’t breathe because oxygen can’t get in and carbon dioxide can’t get out.” That makes absolutely zero sense. How do surgeons breathe while wearing masks?  Why do surgeons wear masks if not for the reason to decrease the risk of spreading infection? I am saddened and frustrated that people don’t logically come to the same conclusions.

What are your thoughts in terms of the coming year or more? Are you optimistic about a vaccine? Are you worried about even more cases in the fall?

I am hopeful that this pandemic will come to an end soon, but I am not optimistic that it will. When the flu gets added back to the mix of respiratory infections later this year, it will cause an even bigger number of people flooding urgent cares and ERs. My colleagues are worried and terrified as well about what is to come. I think the overwhelming stress of frontline workers dealing with COVID-19 will cause a mass exodus of people in healthcare. People will reevaluate their lives and career choices and some will choose to leave medicine altogether. It is extremely stressful even without this pandemic.

On your days off, how do you decompress? Are you able to see your family?

I try to decompress by watching movies, playing video games, enjoying the outdoors, and exercising. I built my children a swing set and a kayak shed, and I spend time with them outdoors. Unfortunately, I have been having to quarantine away from my family in a spare bedroom. My wife has been making all of the meals and bringing them to me. It’s depressing and lonely. I have cried on more than one occasion about all of this. Anyone who knows me knows that the most important thing to me in life is family and relationships. Everything else is replaceable.  

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  • Sara Lazarony

    He is absolutely right that you can tell a person’s political leanings based on their feelings toward the virus. It’s so disheartening and disgusting and dangerous that science and health (and, like, a killer virus??) have become political pawns. It’s wrong in every single way.
    There is so much bad logic and misinformation plaguing our communities as it is. There’s a stark difference between things a person can have an opinion on, and things that are fact, and we as a society have completely blurred the line between the two and accepted it. My only hope is that people will understand just how much danger they’re putting themselves and others in.
    Thank you SO MUCH for your hard work Dr. Padalecki. Sending lots of love and positive vibes. Will definitely be thinking of you and your family. ❤️

  • Hailey Owens

    I wish that Alabama would make masks mandatory like Texas has. Our numbers have skyrocketed. Thank you so much for sharing Jeremy’s knowledge with us. Stay safe. 😷

    • Lacey sanders

      I completely agree with him. I work as an infectious disease epidemiologist and I feel like I am screaming into the wind. Public health is literally working 7 days a week and have been for months now. When people don’t listen or accuse us of being blind sheep…..I have done this job for 23 years. Been through H1N1, West Nile, and Ebola and I have never seen anything like this. All I can say is I am happy I only have 3 more years till I hang up my hat. I worry about all those that will quit that are brand new and public health will suffer from losing educated and motivated new blood.

    • Stephanie

      I wish Idaho would too. It sucks that people are not seeing the science behind it all. It is getting worse by the day 🙁

  • Suzanne

    What is so incredible is that the essential workers are sacrificing so much and so many can’t be bothered to wear a mask. I am so grateful to all the essential workers!! Thank you

    • Beth Gore

      I live in Alabama. It is appalling (and yet not surprising) that we are so backward where the virus is concerned.

      Dr. Padalecki, you have my respect. My heart goes out to all our doctors, nurses, therapists and frontline workers who put their own lives on hold to take care of people who are sometimes ungrateful patients. Thank you.

  • Angelica Lacarra

    I work in the healthcare field in Southern California and Covid19 is running RAMPANT. It’s quite frustrating to see that 5 months into this Pandemic I still see people without a mask out and about it’s a shame that the wearing of a mask has been politicized. I’m a caregiver to my 2 elderly and infirm parents who haven’t left our home in months and haven’t seen their grandchildren in months for fear of dying. Please Please WEAR A MASK

  • Angelica Lacarra

    I work in the healthcare field in Southern California and Covid19 is running RAMPANT. It’s quite frustrating to see that 5 months into this Pandemic I still see people without a mask out and about it’s a shame that the wearing of a mask has been politicized. I’m a caregiver to my 2 elderly and infirm parents who haven’t left our home in months and haven’t seen their grandchildren in months for fear of dying. Please WEAR A MASK

  • Amanda Johnson

    Prayers for him and others. It was heartbreaking to hear his testimonial about healthcare workers leaving medicine, but I get it. As an educator we are about to be forced to return to work or quit, which isn’t what anyone wants, but a lot of educators have young families, and as he said…family is everything!

  • Effie

    Thank you for this information. Thank you too for helping others. We need more people using their brains and heart theses days.

  • Angelene Ronquillo

    Thank you for all you are doing for your patients! I don’t understand how people don’t listen to the health experts about how to keep each other safe doing things like wearing a mask when out and social distancing. It is really disheartening when so many value their freedom to congregate, vacation, get haircuts and shop over the lives of other people.

  • Sara Lazarony

    He’s so right about being able to tell political leanings based on opinions about the virus. It’s disheartening and dangerous that science and health (AKA a killer virus) have become political pawns. Misinformation and poor logic are running absolutely rampant. There’s a stark difference between things that you can have an opinion on, and things that are true fact, through and through. I hope that people will understand just how much danger they’re putting themselves and others in.
    Thank you SO MUCH for all your work Dr Padalecki. Sending love and positive vibes your way, and thinking of you and your family as Texas weathers this wave of the virus. <3

  • Natalia

    This conspiracy thing is madness! Here in Russia it is spreading too, people think that they (government? aliens?) are trying to enslave our nation by forcing to wear masks, stay at home, and other restrictions. Jeremy’s words made me realize that this is a good argument for fight with that. Because if there are similar conspiracies in different countries that means there’s no conspiracy at all. Just a thought

  • Jennifer Lavins

    Fellow health care worker from Pennsylvania. I felt that when you wrote about peoples political influence and how they are reacting to the virus.
    It hurts my heart everytime I do not get to be in the same area as my husband, or my four and five year old boys. Technology makes it better with the ability to see and talk to each other.
    We see you and will get through this together!
    Great advise, Jeremy!

  • Julie

    Wow! This is great info! I definitely feel for all the people working in healthcare right now! Can you ask him how we can help people in healthcare? Is there even a way to help? Praying that this gets better sooner then later! Stay safe!

  • Yolanda

    I live on the other side of the world.
    But I would like to take time and thank Jeremy and all the medical staff for their sacrifices. May him and his family as well as all the other families be blessed, it’s tough times, their lived ones are putting their lives on the line for the rest of humanity.
    The least we can do is make it better and easier for them, while we are with our families, Jeremy and others long to be with theirs.
    Thank you for posting this, an eye opener for a lot of us.

  • Encarni Ruiz

    This is lal so true. Its like I wrote it from my experience treating people all these last months. Here in Spain, masks are mandatory and you have to wear ir to go everywhere, ot ypu wont be able to enter anywhere. You can take it off just to eat and drink qhen ypu are out of your home. And here the cuarantine was more severe, keeping everybody at home for 3 months, so, we stopped it faster. Now there are some cases again because there are people who think they can go out without a mask too (yeah, because the stupid people they vote say so). Its frustrating seeing people believe someone who is so ignorant (like Trump) and not epidemiologists, doctors, nurses and the people that really know what they are talking about.
    Thanks for this post, Jeremy’s interview and work, and, to all the health care people that are really risking their lifes and families lifes (and their time with them) They are the real heros, and people can’t see it.

  • Alice

    I’m in UK and the idiot government here keep easing lockdown despite 100+ deaths a day. We have the NHS thankfully so no cruel medical bills but it’s purposefully underfunded by those in power, causing a huge amount of staff to lose their lives to covid.
    Finally made it mandatory to wear a mask on transport in my city but people still don’t. Or they don’t wear them properly, either nose uncovered or some even just covering their chin (?). Sorry to be crude but I do want to ask these people if they cut other protection in half too?
    Sorry, no real point to this comment other than to rant about how the idiocy/selfishness of a depressingly large number of people is so frustrating (especially when some of them are in positions of power). All my love & kudos to those working in healthcare right now. Thank you for your sacrifices xxx

  • Tracey R Browning

    Thank you so much for taking time to answer Gen’s questions. This has been the best information I’ve gotten on Covid in at least a month. North Carolina is a ‘must wear a mask’ state. I’m not going to lie, it’s been difficult to wear one for my 7 hour shift, but it’s the right thing to do. Praying for you, your family, and your fellow healthcare workers.

  • gemma

    Also from the UK and our nonessential shops and pubs opened today with cases/deaths still high and no rules about wearing masks inside. Im staying home like I have for the whole of this pandemic so far but so many others I see on social media in heaving pubs with no hope of social distancing. Is it really that important to go and have a drink? I feel for anybody working to try and police this and stay safe and for our poor healhtcare workers who will no doubt see a surge in alcohol related accidents tonight and a surge in covid cases in the weeks to come. Alice I’m with you on your rant. This virus isnt fair and how it is being handled by those in power (in the us and the uk) is even more unfair. Stay safe.

  • Andie

    Thank you for sharing this, Gen, and THANK YOU to Jeremy for his insight and willingness to share his experiences. We need to heard THIS. We are praying for you, Jeremy, and all of your coworkers on the front line.

  • Martyna

    I work in a hospital lab in Northwest Arkansas, and he’s right on so many levels. But I really agree about a mass exodus from healthcare. We are so extremely busy with not only running COVID testing for many hospitals and clinics, but because of what COVID is doing to the body, physicians are running a whole battery of tests daily for every patient in our full units. We’re stretched thin and we’re all feeling it. We all love what we do and love our patients, but some of my coworkers are breaking down at home a couple times a week from the stress.

  • Monica Hivick

    Thanks for sharing this article, Gen. It’s so important to hear messages from our Frontline healthcare workers, especially that they are quarantined from their own families!

  • Nicole (Starlately)

    Thank you for this insight ❤️ Unfortunately I know people who are absolutely Convinced the virus is “a government conspiracy.” Wackadoodles–all of them.

    Stay safe and thank your cousin for what he’s doing. 💕

  • Christine B

    Its so sad how everything in this country ends up being about politics. What should be simple straightforward science is being twisted into a political battlefield with our own citizens being the casualty of this war.

  • Kim Jacobs

    We’ve been extremely lucky in Australia, so far. Infection rate is relarively low and was almost completely under control until a week ago where a second outbreak has begun in Melbourne. It’s being contained and treated, so hopefully won’t get out of hand.

    I really feel for everyone in the US who is genuinely trying to do everything they can to avoid exposure. Sadly, it seems too many are still being ignorant or unwilling to follow advice. I sincerely hope that things improve over there soon. People like Jeremy are true heroes right now, and I wish him and all his colleagues the very best.

    I’m not going to make this political, but I seriously believe (as does the vast majority of the world) that nothing less than a change in leadership in the US will start to turn thiings around for all of America.

  • Nina

    Interesting that cases didn’t begin to skyrocket until exactly 2 weeks after the protests and rioting started. Hmmm

  • Elina

    It is ironic, because it is those people we turn to when our lives are affected by any kind of illness or convalescence, and it is these same people that we are not listening to in these moments of health emergency.

  • Elina

    In other words, it will not be the politicians who will save your life tomorrow, the doctors and nurses you are ignoring today will do it. And it’s sad.

  • Danielle

    I work in the NHS here in the UK – the admin side of things. So I’ve worked through this since the beginning. I also rely on public teansport. I’m having to mix with a lot of people, and fortunately not brought the virus back with me and I haven’t caught it. It definitely irritates me though when you queue to get into a shop, or you open the door for someone and they either stand on top of you or barge right past. I haven’t been able to visit my baby niece who has been here now for over 4 months. These times are crazy and although I cannot wait for it to end, I fear it will take years.

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