Lakeview doctor returns to work after battle with COVID-19
The first thing Dr. Michele Reed noticed was how empty the parking lot was outside her Garden City office.
Reed, who had spent a month recovering from the COVID-19 virus, had been looking forward to this moment for weeks, eager to return to work and care for her patients again.
In many ways, it should have been a feeling of pure triumph Friday when she opened the door to her practice for the first time in 31 days. Yet when Reed entered her eerily quiet waiting room and passed by the six dark exam rooms, she realized that the reality of her return was more complicated than that.
“The truth is it’s bittersweet,” Reed said.
Reed, 51, who has a family practice with offices in Rosedale, Queens, and Garden City, tested positive for the virus on March 26 after likely catching it from a sick patient. Since then, the family has coped the best they can in their Lakeview home. She, her husband, Scott Kershaw, and twin 16-year-old sons, Stephen and Marcus Kershaw, agreed to share video, phone interviews and a video diary with Newsday to provide insight into the ordeal a front-line health care professional — and her family — go through when stricken with the coronavirus.
One of the biggest sacrifices health professionals make is that in doing their job they risk the health of their family. In addition to Reed, four members of her office staff tested positive for the virus. All are on their way to recovery.
Reed, who tested negative for the virus last Friday, spent more than two weeks quarantined in her the bedroom, leaving only to use the bathroom. She did not see her sons for weeks, except through electronic media. Her husband slept in the basement but did enter her bedroom, wearing a mask and other protective gear to deliver meals and check on her.
Only now, 10 days after she was able to stop isolating herself, is she starting to comprehend the full extent of the stress she and her family were under. She admitted she worried constantly about them getting sick, especially Scott, who developed a nasty cough but ultimately tested negative.
As a doctor and marathon runner, Reed was used to being in control of both her body and her schedule. While she was sick, however, she had to be dependent on others for almost everything, which gave her an increased appreciation of the helplessness many patients feel.
“I feel fortunate and blessed that I lived through what I did over the past 31 days,” Reed said. “At the same time, I almost feel that my body was sacrificed in a way. My family had to go through a disease, especially my children. My practice had to suffer because we weren’t seeing patients and there was a decreased income. Now, I’m trying to play catch-up.”
One of the biggest challenges she faces is the process of delivering care in a whole new way, treating her patients through telemedicine. On Friday, she met with four members of her staff — all of whom have been tested and cleared — and they talked about how they are going to serve their patients. She also had a telemedicine session with a patient who was suffering from asthma.
“It is different because we are so used to being with people, used to touching people,” Reed said.
Many of her patients are older or uncomfortable with technology, so her staff has to put in extra time walking them through the process of how to download and use an app.
“Sometimes you have to get a younger daughter or grandchild to help them out,” said Scott, a lawyer who helps manage Reed’s practice. “You can’t assume that everyone gets it.”
Reed, who grew up in Lakeview, has known she wanted to be a doctor since elementary school. She opened her practice in Queens 18 years ago in an area with a large Caribbean population, and it is a point of pride with her, as a woman of color, that she has been able to serve “a population that looks like me.” It is a community that has had many coronavirus cases.
Her practice in Garden City also serves many patients from neighboring Hempstead, which has been one of the hardest-hit areas on Long Island.
Before getting sick, Reed said, she had talked with several larger health organizations about having them manage her practice. All of them wanted her to move her office out of Queens to a more affluent section of Long Island. She said she ultimately decided she could not leave her patients in an already underserved community, even though it would have given her more financial stability.
She takes pride that there are a number of her patients who would not have been able to get tested or get the help they needed if she hadn’t been working in their area. At the same time, the inequalities in public health that have been exposed by the virus — particularly the way it has ravaged the African American community — have been particularly difficult for her.
“I don’t know if having this has changed me,” Reed said. “I think if it has, it’s made me more determined and passionate to do what I’ve always wanted to do, which is to make sure all people get the quality of health care they deserve. It’s clear that something has to change.”