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Doctor shares how his son catching COVID changed his approach: 'When it's your kid, you freak out'

In an eye-opening thread, a Dr. Bob Wachter revealed what it was like when his son caught COVID. Despite his otherwise rational approach to the pandemic, the doctor was nervous.

Doctor shares how his son catching COVID changed his approach: 'When it's your kid, you freak out'
Image Source: Bob_Wachter / Twitter

Over the course of the pandemic, Dr. Bob Wachter has been sharing his data-driven approach on how to best tackle Coronavirus via Twitter. Dr. Wachter, the Chair of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco’s medical school, has remained calm and composed over the last two years, urging his followers to do the same. However, when his son contracted the virus, he found himself conflicted. The COVID expert, as a result of his love and concern, found it difficult to rationalize just how unlikely it was for his son to be killed by the illness. He shared his experiences in a now-viral Twitter thread.


"I’ve been tweeting about COVID for nearly two years," Dr. Wachter wrote. "But this week it became personal when my 28-year-old younger son got it. With his permission, I’ll describe his experience and how I approached his situation, given the realities of life and the rapidly changing evidence." To set the context, he shared that his son was in a "moderately high-risk group" as he was generally healthy but overweight. His son has been careful since March 2020 and has received three shots of the Moderna vaccine. Formerly, he wore a two-ply cloth mask but switched to KN95 masks because of his father's encouragement. Although he works in customer support and is typically surrounded by people, the young man contracted the virus after a friend (who was also double-vaxxed) came over to watch a movie on one Monday night.


Dr. Wachter stated, "She felt fine, as did he. Wednesday am (~36 hours later), he woke up and felt awful. Sore throat, dry cough, muscle aches, chills. No taste/smell abnormalities. I told him to stay home, drink fluids, and take Tylenol or Advil. Local pharmacies were all out of rapid tests, but I had one set stashed away. He came outside (I wore an N95) and we ran it, with a nasal swab. It was negative. I was a little reassured, though he was not." His son claimed he felt exactly as he did after receiving the vaccine.

"He seemed sick enough to be infectious; I wondered if he’d be an example of the newly reported problems with false-negative rapid tests in the first days of an Omicron infection," the doctor continued. "He called the University of California San Francisco Hospitals COVID hotline to get a PCR or Color (PCR-like) test." The first available test was four days away, so that was of no help. Dr. Wachter heated up some chicken soup, bought an oximeter, and told his son to call him if his symptoms changed or his oxygen levels fell below 95 percent.


This is when Dr. Wachter's rationality failed him: "The next day, I called him at 9 am, no answer. My brain knows the odds of a fully vaxxed young person dying are near-zero. Still, I wondered briefly if he’d survived the night: evidence-based medicine meets parental emotion. I tried again at 10 am, still no answer." Thankfully, he let himself into his son's house, where he found him sleeping (and breathing). Eventually, his son tested positive, at which point the doctor felt a strange sense of guilt. "Like millions of other young people, my son had COVID," he wrote. "I felt a strange guilt—not entirely rational, but real—for not having protected him... He called in sick to work, set himself up for at least five days of strict isolation, and I set out to figure out his prognosis and if treatment was merited. I knew, deep down, that [the] odds of a bad case were low. But when it’s your kid, you freak out a bit."


So, Dr. Wachter figured out the best way forward, and shared some of his lessons for others to learn from: "First, thank God for vaccines! Yes, he had COVID, but his vax slashed the odds of a severe case, hospitalization, and death. Second, concerns regarding false-negative rapid tests in Omicron are real, as are shortages of tests and meds. Omicron's lesson: lower your guard and it'll pounce. Should he have watched movies with his friend? I think so—it seemed like a fairly safe encounter. But while Omicron is surging, even low-risk stuff—things that were safe last month—may now be risky. Given how quickly this storm may pass, it seems wise to hunker down a bit." Finally, he added, "My son should do okay, but the illness and the anxiety it causes are miserable. Resigning ourselves to getting Omicron doesn’t seem right, especially since the surge may be short-lived. I still think it’s an experience best avoided—for you and your loved ones—if you can."


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