Yianni Efstathiadis, 34, had spent months treating COVID-19 patients in the emergency department at Melbourne’s Northern Hospital when one day in July, he began to come down with some of the symptoms himself — muscle aches, lethargy, fever.
A test soon confirmed the worst: he had contracted COVID-19.
But unlike most young victims of the insidious virus, the fit and healthy doctor’s respiratory condition deteriorated quickly and he was hooked onto a ventilator for the fight of his life.
Now recovering from the virus, Dr Efstathiadis has shared his harrowing ordeal with ABC’s 7.30.
“I had been working each week and finished on the Friday, (and on) the Sunday night I started feeling a bit sick, lethargic, muscle aches, that sort of thing,” he said.
“By Monday, (I) started getting fevers. So I got myself swabbed for COVID.”
When the result came back positive, Dr Efstathiadis had to quarantine while his wife Brit Green, 27, who is also a doctor at the Northern Hospital, self-isolated with her mum.
But Dr Efstathiadis’ condition grew rapidly worse and he was taken to hospital.
There, his oxygen levels began to plummet.
“That was the most scary thing for me. That was the point as a doctor I was getting a bit startled, that’s when I started getting worried, because I knew where it was heading, if it didn’t get better,” he said.
Dr Efstathiadis was going into respiratory failure and was rushed to the ICU and hooked up to a ventilator to help him breathe.
“Even though I’ve seen this, that sort of stuff being done before, and I have actually put in tubes (in patients) before as well. Being on a patient’s side, it was just for me, it was panic and fear,” he said.
Meanwhile, Dr Green was faced with the very real possibility of her husband becoming one of Australia’s youngest victims of COVID-19.
“I was pretty scared that I might not see him ever again. And that was terrifying,” she said.
“I don’t know that I can summarise that experience much more than it being horrific. Every day I woke up and I was scared, every day.”
Dr Efstathiadis’ hospital colleagues were also grappling with the confronting reality of treating one of their own.
“His lungs were not working,” the Northern Hospital’s ICU director Dr Anthony Cross told 7.30.
“I was very scared at the prospect that he may deteriorate to the point that we weren’t able to support him or that he died.
“I think also, it brings it all home. It becomes very personal because this could be any one of us.”
While in hospital Dr Efstathiadis was given the drug heparin, which has been previously administered via injection but is being trialled as an inhaled substance in the hope it may limit lung damage in seriously ill COVID-19 patients.
After a few days Dr Efstathiadis’ condition improved and he was able to go home to recover, and he is expected to return to work soon.
Dr Efstathiadis has no way of knowing how he contracted the virus but it was likely from a patient he treated at work.
While older adults are at more risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19 the virus has been known to claim very young victims.
Last week, a Victorian man in his 20s became Australia’s youngest person to die from COVID-19, following the previous youngest deaths of two men in their 30s.
Dr Efstathiadis said he was struck by the death of one of the men in his 30s.
“It really hit home how lucky I was to have made it through,” he said.
“It sounded like this person also had no other health issues or complications. So it was a bit humbling to know that I’d made it. I’ve been very lucky.”