Doctors get personal on social media during COVID-19 crisis

Dr. Josh Mugele recently posted this photo on Twitter and wrote, “Me and Hilde watching the rain.”CONTRIBUTED

Dr. Josh Mugele, an emergency room doctor in northeast Georgia, recently re-examined his will.

He wrote down bank account numbers. And made a list of all his passwords. It’s information his wife will need — “In case I die,” he says.

The decision to get his affairs in order is just one of the personal moments Mugele shares on Twitter. The 46-year-old, who joined the staff of the Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville only last October, also writes daily reflections on life during a pandemic.

During these extraordinary times, Mugele and many other medical professionals have taken to social media to vent, talk about their anxiety, share heartbreak and to seek advice from colleagues.

For them, the social media posts are an outlet, sometimes a call to action. But, for the community at large, they also are windows into the lives and thoughts of those dealing daily with the virus in an up close and personal way.

University of Georgia professor Glen Nowak says doctors, nurses and other medical workers are in unique position to influence, whether that’s encouraging the public to practice social distancing or imploring governments to act.

Often, making change happen “is less about the stats and facts and more about an emotional connection,” says Nowak, director of the Center for Health and Risk Communication in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Doctors and nurses, he says, can take the abstract and make it real.

After all, getting people to shelter in place is a hard ask, even when it’s the governor doing the asking, Nowak adds.

“But it means a lot for someone on the front line to say it’s worth it, and why it’s worth it,” he says. “It means a lot to hear from people who are authentic, genuine and experiencing in the real world.”

So, on social media, Dr. Brandon Seay, a pediatric pulmonologist at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, urges the public to take social distancing seriously.

And, two weeks before the governor issued a shelter-in-place order, Dr. Akshat Pujara, a diagnostic radiologist practicing in Atlanta, found himself starting a petition and leading a chorus of voices calling for the action.

Sometimes, the posts aren’t about influencing behavior. They’re just observations.

Dr. Kimberly D. Manning, a physician at Grady Memorial Hospital, has been a constant on Twitter during the pandemic, writing posts she calls #NarrativeintheTimeofCorona.

In one, Manning, whose twitter handle is @gradydoc, confesses her anxiety.

“I want to beat my chest and give a war cry. Swipe paint under my eyes and go running in fearless like the rest. I see my peers entering the middle of the coliseum glaring unapologetically at the enemy. I wish I felt the same. I do not. What I am is afraid.”

In another, she writes about her readiness to jump in.

“I feel like the 6th man. Hunched forward on my knees watching all the action and waiting for the coach to call me in. Or for LeBron to get tired. I’ve been at every practice and have practiced my jumper on my own. I’m ready. Let me in, Coach. I want the ball.”

Mugele, too, has felt pulled to give more, and he posts about that, as well.

He made several trips to Liberia in 2013 and 2014 during the Ebola outbreak. His recent posts reflect his desire to support those in the medical community who are overwhelmed.

And he shared big news about how he plans to do that — by heading to New York City, the epicenter of the outbreak in America, to work in the ER there.

“I’m feeling very restless,” he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We are on the edge, waiting for the shoe to drop. And seeing what is happening in New York, and going to hit Atlanta soon, we are all just holding our breath.”

Mugele says he wants to be as useful as possible.

Mugele feels the same as many others in the medical professional. In a myriad of ways, the pandemic has been heart wrenching.

On Twitter, “The Nurse Sam” admires a patient’s daughter, who comes every day after work to see her mother. “Even with us on lockdown, she goes to her room window (where she waits for her) and gives her air kisses and hugs. Every. Day. (be right back), gonna go cry.”

Emory infectious disease expert Dr. Carlos del Rio mostly uses his social media account to pass on medical information about the latest research. But, at times, he offers a glimpse into how he copes with the grim reality of the coronavirus outbreak: He listens to the second movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 — the Allegretto, one of the most captivating pieces of music ever written.

“It reflects my mood today when I feel hopeless trying to stop the advance of #COVID19 yet have to stay focused and strong.”

And, while del Rio is well aware that the worst of the pandemic likely lies ahead, he also offers encouragement.

“My advice,” he writes on Twitter, “stay strong, stay home, stay healthy & happy; this too will pass!”

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