Weed and Seven Benadryl and Other Wild Lengths COVID Docs Are Taking to Get

One emergency medicine doctor at a New York City hospital has lost count of the number of sleep medicines she’s tried since the coronavirus took over her life in February.

First it was temazepam and then trazodone, though even tripling her initial 50 mg dose didn’t help. She’s been prescribed two different antidepressants, and tried medical marijuana.

One night, she said, she took seven Benadryl.

“And my doctor was like, ‘What happened?’ And I was like, ‘I didn’t sleep,’” said the emergency medicine doctor, who spoke to The Daily Beast on the condition of anonymity because she didn’t want her employer to find out she sees a psychiatrist or takes medication.

Her newest cocktail: a combination of Ativan, melatonin, and high blood pressure medicines. But there are still days, she said, when she drags herself into work on no sleep at all. “It absolutely affects how I do my job,” said the doctor.

For a while, I was terrified of sleeping.

Emergency medicine doctor in New York

Of course, getting to sleep isn’t even half the battle. Even when her medicines work and she can drift off, she finds herself woken up by a surge of adrenaline a few hours later.

And then there are the night terrors.

“For a while, I was terrified of sleeping,” she told The Daily Beast. “I didn’t even want to take my medicine to go to sleep, because you’d just have really bad dreams of your patients dying and you couldn’t save them.”

Since the coronavirus went from curiosity to pandemic, frontline health-care workers tasked with caring for the hundreds of thousands of patients passing through their clinics, emergency departments, and hospitals have been mired in sleep disorders and insomnia. One study of New York City health-care workers treating COVID patients this spring showed that 75 percent of respondents had at least some insomnia and that, on average, they were sleeping less than six hours each night.

And then there’s just so much death.

Dr. Jessi Gold

Now, as the second wave of the virus pummels the United States, experts say that percentage is likely much higher—and that the arrival of a vaccine, while encouraging, offers little in the way of a respite.

“It’s a crisis,” said Dr. Jessi Gold, a psychiatrist at Washington University in St. Louis who specializes in the mental health of health-care workers.

“Pretty much no one is sleeping,” she added. “And that makes sense, because if you think of sleep as a symptom of acute stress, well, this job is in many ways an accumulation of traumas. There’s the anxiety of, ‘Am I going to get sick? Am I going to get my partner or my children or someone else sick?’” Gold said.

“And then there’s just so much death.”

In the short term, these sleep issues have severe consequences for the profession, according to Gold, who likens working on little sleep to “drunk driving.” But other doctors say the long-term consequences are perhaps even more dire.


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