During the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a documented decline in emergency department visits for medical and traumatic conditions, myocardial infarctions, stroke, and hyperglycemic crises.1–3 Four in 10 adults have deferred care for fear of contracting the novel coronavirus, which complicates a patient’s disease course and places them in a higher-mortality cohort.4 A recent survey conducted by ACEP found that 80 percent of respondents were concerned about contracting COVID-19 from another patient or visitor in the emergency department, and 29 percent have actively delayed or avoided seeking medical care due to concerns about contracting COVID-19.5 Another survey found that, regarding non-COVID-19-related complaints, 59 percent of respondents were unlikely to utilize emergency care, with an additional 20 percent of respondents who “don’t know.”6
We present a case study of a patient whose fear of contracting COVID-19 led to significant morbidity.
A 79-year-old African American male presented to the emergency department with a two-week history of right leg swelling and darkness of his right second toe. He denied any history of trauma, pain, or erythema. The patient did not report any systemic symptoms, including fever, malaise, or weakness. His medical history was notable for hypertension and ulcerative colitis, the latter of which was managed by infliximab. The patient reported smoking 0.5 packs per day. He had delayed seeking medical treatment for two weeks due to fear of COVID-19.
On examination, the patient appeared well, with normal speech and mental status. Vital signs were normal. Cardiac, pulmonary, and abdominal exams were unremarkable. Examination of the right leg demonstrated moderate edema of the calf. Moderate erythema and edema were seen on the dorsum of the right foot. Right dorsalis pedis and posterior tibial pulses were not palpable. The right second toe was notable for gangrene, purulence, and an absent distal phalanx (see Figure 1).
Laboratory studies included a glucose of 103 mg/dL, hemoglobin of 12.3 g/dL, and erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) of 100 mm/h. A plain radiograph of the right foot showed osteomyelitis of the second middle phalanx (see Figure 2). Ultrasound of the right lower extremity revealed an occlusion extending from the right superficial femoral artery through the popliteal artery. No deep vein thrombosis was found.
Empiric antibiotic treatment with intravenous vancomycin and piperacillin/tazobactam was initiated in the emergency department. The patient was admitted to the hospital and received consultations from infectious disease, podiatry, and vascular surgery specialists. On hospital Day 3, he underwent right iliofemoral endarterectomy with bovine patch angioplasty, right proximal superficial femoral artery endarterectomy, and right femoral artery to tibial artery saphenous vein bypass. On hospital Day 7, he underwent a right second digit amputation and flap. He was discharged home after 11 days in good condition.