NEW YORK -- Dr. Charles Murphy was one of the first physicians in New York state to treat the initial wave of patients who tested positive for covid-19.
This was in early March at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center, where Murphy, a 33-year-old pulmonary and critical care fellow, worked with Dr. Nina Suda, a 33-year-old endocrinology fellow. The two had been dating for 3 ½ years.
"I was so proud of Charlie because I know what a terrific, dedicated doctor he is and just how much he cares about his patients," said Suda, who met Murphy in June 2015 during their internal medicine residency at the Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx.
"Believe me," Suda said, laughing, "whenever I talk about Charlie, I could go on and on and on."
By late March, Murphy learned that he had been exposed to the coronavirus, becoming one of the first physicians in the state to be sent home to quarantine. Suda began wondering just how long she could go on if the man she loved and was engaged to had contracted the virus.
"When Charlie called to tell me what was going on, my heart just dropped to my stomach," she said. "My mind just went blank. I had a million questions, and yet I was speechless."
A shortage of covid-19 tests meant Murphy would need to isolate for two weeks, watching for symptoms.
"Needless to say, I was very worried and very scared," said Suda, who was working an early-afternoon shift at an outpatient clinic at the hospital when she received Murphy's frightening call. "Charlie never called me at that time," she said. "I knew something was wrong."
Murphy, who lived in Manhattan, said he "felt helpless" in quarantine. "It was a scary, uncertain time in my life," he said. "It was so odd to be sitting at home and knowing I couldn't help those patients who had been counting on me."
He said his parents dropped off food and other supplies at his front door, but "it was really Nina who helped me keep my sanity."
Suda took Murphy dinner most nights during his quarantine, "which made me feel quite conflicted," Murphy said. "Despite the fact that I really wanted to see her, I knew, as she did, that her presence put her at great risk of getting sick, or worse," he said. "I would have never forgiven myself had anything ever happened to her.
"But it didn't matter what I said or what I thought," Murphy said with a sigh, "because she was not taking 'no' for an answer."
Both took many precautions. Each wore a surgical mask and stayed at least 6 feet apart. And when Suda, who also lived in Manhattan, turned the knob on Murphy's front door, she used a disinfectant wipe.
"Other than following the standard safety procedures, I tried to act as normal as possible whenever I was around him during those two difficult weeks," Suda said. "I didn't want to make him feel like he was radioactive."
But all Murphy was feeling, from his first day of quarantine until his last, was fine.
"During the first five or six days, he had not developed any symptoms of the coronavirus, which was a very good sign," said Suda, who also was treating covid-19 patients in April and May. "By Day 14, he was emotionally spent but still exhibited no signs that he had contracted the virus."
'SENSE OF RELIEF'
"Suddenly," she said, "we felt this great sense of relief come over us, and we were thrilled to be going back to our normal, everyday lives."
Suda first took notice of Murphy during their orientation in 2015 at the Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine. He had just returned from a trip to India, and she could just about see the flecks of sunshine still dancing on what she called his "beautiful, dark complexion."
"He already had the tall and handsome thing going on," Suda said. "He also had this charming glow about him that made me curious about his ethnicity, but we both had very busy jobs ahead of us, so I let it go at that."
Murphy, who is 6 foot 2, says he is "100% Irish," and "maybe I'm like 10% Italian." Suda, 5-3, is of Indian descent.
At the beginning of their second year as residents, in July 2016, they were finally paired in an exclusive medical rotation for the first and only time.
Once was all they needed. "From a personality standpoint she was very easy to talk to," Murphy said. "She was exceedingly warm and bubbly with a self-deprecating sense of humor, which I found very charming.
"On top of everything else, she was so beautiful," he added. "It only took a few short months for me to realize that everything I wanted in a woman was there -- right there in front of me -- and I knew she was the one I wanted to marry."
The couple married on June 13, their originally scheduled date. But the coronavirus and all the social restrictions attached to it forced them to abandon plans for an elaborate, 250-guest wedding ceremony that was to be followed by a Western reception -- "meaning I was to wear a white wedding dress and he, a tuxedo" -- at the Hyatt Regency Jersey City on the Hudson, in New Jersey.
The couple decided instead to have a much smaller ceremony and reception on the backyard deck of the bride's parents' home in Kinnelon, N.J. Fifteen guests, including her parents, Drs. Abhay and Anjuli Suda, and his, Julia and George Murphy of Fairfield, Conn., and others via Zoom, watched as the bride and groom stood before Pratap Singhal, a Hindu priest.
Though the couple opted not to exchange vows, the groom's mother read the Thomas Moore poem "In the Morning of Life." The bride said it "was chosen for its bittersweet sentiments, given covid."