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One winter toward the end of my training, I came down with a cold. At first, the constant coughing and runny nose made me miserable; then they became tiring. To decrease the chances of spreading my germs, I had to tie on a mask every time I came into contact with patients, wash my hands so frequently my skin became raw and wipe down the phone receivers with alcohol when I answered a page. Unable to scratch, wipe or blow in the operating room without contaminating my hands, I learned that for a surgeon with a runny nose, there are no palatable options for the uncontrollable nasal effluvium; I had to wear two masks every time I scrubbed up for a case.
Within days of the onset of my symptoms, other clinicians on my team were felled with the same. For weeks, we passed the cold back and forth in what became a viral game of hot potato. Even if I felt well enough one day to breathe through my nose, taste the nursing station holiday cookies and laugh without spiraling into a coughing fit, I knew that it would be only a matter of days, if not hours, before I would become sick again, invariably with a virus that had mutated just enough in the interim to dodge any immunity built up during the last go-around.
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