An ER doctor shared one patient's COVID-19 recovery story, and it's genuinely beautiful

In all the big numbers and chaos and heartbreaking stories of the pandemic, it's easy to miss the one-on-one connections that are happening through it all. Yet we need these stories to remind us of what it is we are fighting for—the beautiful human experience we're all a part of.

An ER physician, Dr. Halleh Akbarnia shared one such story about a COVID-19 patient on Facebook this week, and it's just...well, you'll see.


Working in emergency medicine for nearly 20 years Dr. Akbarnia has seen it all. "I'm used to the daily grind of heart attacks, gunshots, strokes, flu, traumas, and more. It's par for the course in my field," she wrote. "Yet nothing has made me feel the way I do about my 'job' as this pandemic has—that knot-in-the-pit–of-your-stomach sensation while heading into work, comforted only by the empathetic faces of my colleagues who are going through the same."

The veteran ER doc then described her experience treating of one of her COVID-19 patients, "Mr. C." and seriously, you might want to grab a tissue for it.

Akbarnia wrote:

"I met my patient, Mr. C., on my first real 'pandemic' shift, when what we were seeing that day was what we had been preparing for. He was classic in his presentation, his X-ray findings, his low oxygen levels… we just knew. And he was the nicest man I had met in a long time. Gasping for breath, he kept asking if we needed anything, and that it would all be okay. He told us he was a teacher but that he was learning so much from us, and how much he respected what we were doing. The opposite could not be more true."

"We had to decide how long we would try to let him work through this low oxygen state before needing to intubate him. His levels kept falling and despite all our best efforts it was time to put him on the ventilator. He told us he didn't feel great about this, 'but Doc, I trust you and am putting myself in your hands.' That uneasy feeling in my stomach grew even more in that moment. But he, with his teacher's steady voice, kept me grounded, where I was supposed to be. I saw his eyes looking at me, seeing the kindness in them, even as we pushed the medications to put him to sleep. To say this was an 'easy' intubation is an understatement. It was not. He nearly left us a few times during those first minutes, but he kept coming back. We fought hard to keep him with us. The patience and strength of my team that day, truly remarkable.

I handed him over to my friend and colleague, Dr. Beth Ginsburg, and her team in the ICU, and her calming voice reassured me that they had it from here. And then for the next twelve days, I waited and watched his progress, knowing the statistics, and how sick he was when he got to us. They did their magic, and just yesterday my new friend Mr. C was extubated. I decided to go 'meet' him again.

Mr C. was in the COVID stepdown unit, recovering, without family. Nobody was allowed to visit him; even worse, his wife had been home alone in isolation for the past fourteen days, too. My heart broke thinking of how that must have been for her. I cautiously went into his room, donned in my PPE, and when he saw me, he stopped for a second. A moment of recognition.

I introduced myself. 'I'm Dr. Akbarnia, Mr. C. I was the last person you saw in the ER. You told me you trusted us to get you to this side. Looks like you did just fine.' He started to cry. He said, 'I remember your eyes.' And I started to cry. What he didn't know is that, at that moment, I realized that we do what we do exactly for people like him, for moments like these. His strength, his kindness, his calming words to me meant everything. At that moment, my heart (which had been beating over 100 bpm since this pandemic began) finally slowed down.

I sat down and we talked. I told him that while he is here, we are his family. He will always have a place in my heart. And whether he knows it or not, he will be my silent warrior and guide as I take care of every patient, COVID or not. He will fuel me until the day I hang up my stethoscope."

These snippets of human connection—so small in the grand scheme of things, yet so powerful on an individual level—are truly the embodiment of why we're all making the sacrifices we're making. Thank you, Dr. Akbarnia and Mr. C., for the beautiful reminder.

Courtesy of Elaine Ahn

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There’s also a feeling that the current state of pop culture is lacking as well. Nobody listens to new music anymore and unless you’re into superheroes, it seems like creativity is seriously missing from the silver screen.

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Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

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Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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A recent (and fairly insensitive) sketch from “Saturday Night Live” said it best regarding the widespread fixation many have on the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard trial:

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Johnny Depp and Amber Heard Trial Cold Open - SNL www.youtube.com

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