courage covid-19 Guest

Survival Doesn’t Mean Nothing Died

I saw the poem below on Twitter. It touched my soul to its core. After reading, I reached out to the author and asked permission to share. He granted.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on

Please allow me to introduce the work of Dr. Sayad Tabatabai MD to you, my readers. He goes by @TheRealDoctorT on Twitter. Take a moment to check out his Twitter feed, I am sure you will love what you see.

Wake up with a strange feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Not quite anxiety, not quite fear.

Shower and it doesn’t go away.

Drive to work, construction on the roads, take the detour. Park and exhale, overcome inertia and get out of the car.

The air is unexpectedly cool.

A man sits on a bench outside the ER. Torn jeans, hollow gaze.

He nods hello to me. I nod back.

Masks hide facial expressions.

I walk past, into the hospital.

COVID screening. Point the infrared thermometer gun at my forehead and pull the trigger.

Beep. Good.

This used to be the Monster’s lair.

We didn’t kill the Monster. It killed us.

200,000 of us.

And it’s waiting, biding its time, prowling, invisible.

Seething in silent fury.

I sit down at the workstation, click open my patient list, and start going through lab work and triaging.

Giving my day a skeletal structure.

An intensivist sits beside me. Normally a talkative man, he is subdued. We barely speak to each other.

Perhaps he feels it too.

As I make my rounds through the hospital and see non-COVID patients, I try and rejoice at the small things.

The ability to perform a physical exam unencumbered by the layers of armor needed in a COVID room.

The ability to listen to clear breath sounds, deep breaths.

Later that afternoon I’m eating lunch.

In the cafeteria is one of my colleagues who survived COVID after being intubated, and on ECMO.

He has lost a third of his body weight, and looks nothing like the man I remember.

He shows me a photograph of himself in the ICU.

In the photograph he is without any context.

He is a human body, with tubes connecting to machines, the venous blood a rich, dark, crimson as it runs into the ECMO circuit, bright red as it returns with its precious oxygen.

I don’t know why, but suddenly I want to cry.

He offers me a faint smile. I am deeply grateful that he is alive. It means a lot to me in this moment.


As he walks away slowly I remember a year ago, when he came up and slapped me on the back gregariously, saying hello.

Survival doesn’t mean nothing died.

Leaving the hospital to head to my office, the bench outside the ER is empty, no man in torn jeans.

Just my memory that he was once there.

Driving, I notice people walking during their lunch break, along the sidewalks.

No masks. Used to make me angry.

I feel nothing now.

In the office my colleague goes over the latest COVID data with me. He tells me to exercise. To steel my mind and body for the rising tide.

I gaze at the numbers, the data, and don’t see any of it.

Instead I see two glowing eyes, staring back at me.

Something stalking.

Get home later that night.

Get ready to go to bed.

Have a strange feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Not quite anxiety, not quite fear.

It’s been with me for days now.

Sleep comes fitfully.

I dream that I’m laughing.

And laughing.

Wild as a wolf, howling at the moon.

–Sayad Tabatabai, MD @TheRealDoctorT

Dr. Tabatabai expressed the uncertainty, fear, trauma, and waiting for the other shoe to drop like an atom bomb with such clarity.

The fact of the matter is, that health care providers on every point on the spectrum have been traumatized by the Monster named COVID.

I suggest that every living human being has been traumatized in some way, shape, or form as well.

However, trauma is trauma.

The long-term effects have yet to become obvious.

As Dr. Tabatabai so aptly stated:

“Survival doesn’t mean nothing died.”

“Survival doesn’t mean nothing died.”

“Survival doesn’t mean nothing died.”

“Survival doesn’t mean nothing died.”

“Survival doesn’t mean nothing died.”
“Survival doesn’t mean nothing died.”

Thank you for sharing your feelings.

So many feel exactly as you do.

Keep writing, please.


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