Through a resident’s eyes: A look back at 2020, COVID-19

Posted on March 24, 2021 by Nichelle Smith
Nichelle Smith

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In 2020, resident physicians training at USA Health quickly learned they would have to balance growing their medical knowledge in the specialty of their choice with adapting and embracing the many unknowns provided by a deadly respiratory illness, COVID-19. They were tasked with developing their skills as brand-new clinicians while adjusting to the new daily routines presented by the pandemic. This combination made for an interesting training experience, to say the least. Here’s what some of our residents had to say as they looked back on 2020: 


Christina Mattingly, M.D.

Christina Mattingly, M.D.

Emergency Medicine PGY-1 resident

“COVID hit right as I was completing my last year of medical school. We weren’t able to enter hospitals towards the end. As I entered my residency training, I was apprehensive but excited to be back in the hospital environment.

“As a first-year emergency medicine resident physician, the very first patient I saw in the emergency room at University Hospital happened to be COVID positive. Ironically, my first day on my ICU rotation on the COVID floor was also the first time I ever had to withdraw care on a patient. That was tough.

“The most impactful interaction I had was with a COVID positive patient during that same rotation. I was taking care of them for most of the month, and when they were initially transferred to ICU they were talking and responsive so we were hopeful that the patient would get better. I would communicate with the patient’s daughter, who was probably around my age, via iPad quite often. Dressed in PPE, with only my eyes showing, I video-called her day-after-day to update her on the status of her parent.

“The last conversation I had with her I had given her good news, but that night the patient’s condition began to deteriorate and continued to decline. Three days later, the breathing worsened, and the patient eventually coded. I didn’t have to call the daughter to deliver the news since it didn’t happen during my shift, but it didn’t make the loss any easier.

“The next day when I returned to the ICU, I saw the empty bed where the patient spent nearly a month. My stomach dropped. That was the moment everything became reality.”


Elizabeth Ekpo, M.D.Elizabeth Epko, M.D.

Emergency Medicine PGY-2 resident

“I’ve had colds and even the flu in the past, but this was different. As a physician, part of my job is to keep going even when I don’t feel the best – granted I’m not contagious, or being there would cause more harm than good.

“This time, it was different. I felt absolutely horrible. The only way I could describe it was that it felt like I was hit by a bus.

“During this time, COVID-19 was just starting to make its way to the Gulf Coast, and there weren’t many cases yet. Following protocol, I got a rapid COVID test. To my relief, it was negative, so I took a Tylenol and went to work.

“Throughout the day, I started to progressively feel worse and developed a fever. I went home early and couldn’t get my fever below 102 for two days straight. I knew something wasn’t right. So, to be safe, I decided to get another COVID test. I wasn’t experiencing any of the key symptoms that we were told early on could be a sign of COVID. But, I tested again, nonetheless. It was negative.

“After I got my fever to break, I returned to work, armed with my negative COVID-19 results and PPE. Still, I wasn’t myself. Something was off.  My voice was completely nonexistent to the point that I had to write to communicate. I was also experiencing hot flashes and lethargy like I had never experienced before.  And then, eight days after my first fever, I got conjunctivitis.

“The pink eye prompted another trip to the doctor. I informed them that there was no way I had COVID, because by this time I had three negative tests. They, of course, tested me anyway, and to my surprise, it was positive.

“I spent the next 10 days on quarantine at home. To this day, I have no clue how I got COVID. I was so, so careful. I didn’t leave my house other than to go to work and grab groceries.

“Fast forward one year later, I was able to get the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. Although I already had the antibodies from having the virus, I still felt it was important to arm myself with as much protection as possible. After I got my shot, guess what happened? Yep, pink eye again. But, I guess that’s a small price to pay in the grand scheme of things.”

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