UCSF Doctor Contracts COVID for the First Time. His Experience Was a Rollercoaster Ride.

San Francisco’s Dr. Robert “Bob” Wachter left the “NoVid” club this week in a truly unreal fashion — suddenly collapsing while taking a hot shower and hitting his head on a bathroom trash can.

I’ve been a fan of USCF Professor Dr. Robert “Bob” Wachter and his grounding, centering tweet storms that laid out pandemic jargon into digestible threads, especially during the height of the Covid-19 health emergency. Wachter acted as a balm for many, providing sensible recommendations on how to navigate infection and exposure in a post-pandemic world.

Wachter’s son contracted Covid-19 in January of 2022; he shared the journey — including his measured opinions on Paxlovid, the FDA-approved antiviral drug used to treat Covid patients — in illuminating details. Then, his wife succumbed to the illness; she is likely now suffering from long-covid.

Despite his close proximity to infected family members, Wachter managed to avoid contracting the not-so-novel respiratory disease, staying firmly in the “Novid” club. That all changed this week when he contracted Covid-19… leaving him to wake up in a pool of his own blood on the bathroom floor (more on that later).

“Until this week, I remained a NoVid, which I chalked up to being fairly cautious, fully vaxxed & a bit lucky,” reads the first in a series of 22 tweets from the celebrated, beloved professor. “This week my luck ran out. My case is a cautionary tale, particularly for the “just a cold” folks. Mine definitely was not…I literally have scars to show for it.”

Wachter received his second Bivalent booster shot in April, bolstering his immune system even further. His protection at that time, per his estimates, was that he would have “strong protection” from a severe case of Covid-19 for “2-3 months.” Adpmitly, Weather says he “let his guard down” in regards to his otherwise stringent mask-wearing policies; he still wore them at work, in crowded rooms, and on planes, though Wachter has since allowed himself to eat and drink inside restaurants.

But by Sunday, Wachter started experiencing “flu-ish” symptoms — which got far rowse by Monday afternoon. Strangely enough, his home Covid test proved negative.

“My Covid home test was negative. Given how “Covid-y” I felt,  I planned to repeat it that night,” he tweeted. “I called in sick to work, didn’t eat or drink, and choked down 2 Tylenol.”

Wanting some relief from his symptoms, Wachter (like many of us in similar situations) took a hot shower — a “mistake,” he lamented. Though hot water can offer relief from flu-like symptoms, the heat from the hot water if you’re dehydrated can dilate your blood vessels, thus leaving you dizzy and unbalanced from a drop in blood pressure.

That dip in blood pressure caused Wachter to slip while in the shower… and hit his head on the rim of a stainless-steel bathroom trash can.

“I work up in a bloody pool on my bathroom floor,” he tweeted. “There was a dent in the lid of a trash can, likely where my head had hit. I remembered nothing. As I managed to get up, it was clear that my face was going to need stitches, and more than a couple.”

Wachter’s wife was out-of-town, but his future son-in-law managed to drive him to a UCSF Emergency Room, where he found out the extent of his injuries and the fact that he did have Covid. 

“The head CT showed a small subdural hematoma, a little rim of bleeding in the space around the brain,” he tells. “This bought me an overnight stay in the hospital for a repeat scan to ensure the bleeding wasn’t enlarging; it also led to a week of an anti-seizure medication.”

“More fun” came in the way of him learning the spine CT scan showed a “small non-displaced cervical fracture (C3 for aficionados),” which required a cervical spine collar and a few neurological exams to be sure he had no symptoms of spinal cord damage.

However, things could’ve been much worse.

“With that kind of syncope and fall, I could easily have taken out an eye, been paralyzed from my spine injury, or died of a subdural bleed,” he tweets. “ I must have bruised my flank pretty well going down since that’s what hurts more than anything – no fun while I was coughing.”

After 24 hours, Wachter was released from the emergency room and is now on his third day of recovery, feeling “90% better from the Covid”; his cough is “essentially gone and my sore throat is much better, as is the fatigue.” 

Wachter, too, has been taking Paxlovid to help with the infection — “I have barely noticed any altered taste (my wife called it “chewing on rebar”).”

Joining the likes of three-quarters of Americans who’ve been infected with Covid-19, Wachter is no longer in the “NoVid” club.

“So my first case of Covid was pretty dramatic  – if I hadn’t passed out, it would have been 3-4 days of a pretty nasty upper respiratory illness,” he concluded. “But I did, and so my (unusual) case goes on my list of reasons that Covid continues to be worth avoiding if you can.”

Wachter’s Covid infection is a reminder that San Francisco is still recording around 30 new Covid cases per day… and to think twice about taking a hot shower when you’re dehydrated.

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