Dr. Hazim El-Haddad, an interventional cardiologist at Baltimore's Sinai Hospital, had just performed a successful procedure on a patient's heart when he got sickening news. A CAT scan on the same patient revealed they also had cancer.
During the COVID-19 epidemic, everybody that comes into El-Haddad's wing is treated as if they're infected and the doctors suit up accordingly. But even if they're not, there's still life's normal killers – like heart attacks and cancer.
The big difference now is that when El-Haddad arrives at work, he sees the emergency room packed as Maryland grapples with its surge of COVID cases. There are no elective procedures on El-Haddad's calendar anymore. Every case is an emergency.
So on Saturday, when El-Haddad received a FaceTime call as he was awaiting the latest results on that patient's CAT scan, he was flustered when it wasn't who he expected.
"Hey, doc, it's Roger Goodell," the person said on the other end of the FaceTime call.
"Hey. Sorry, I can't talk at the moment," El-Haddad responded. "Who's this?"
Then El-Haddad actually looked at the person on the other end and it hit him. He was speaking to the commissioner of the NFL, who was in the league's draft headquarters/basement of his New York home.
"I was literally reaching for the button. I literally almost hung up on Roger Goodell," El-Haddad said Monday night.
El-Haddad was part of Thursday night's draft broadcast after being selected as part of the league's "inner-circle" of fans. The PSL holder was chosen after submitting a video of himself talking about the struggle of COVID-19 and power of the NFL Draft while wearing his typical workplace getup – a lead vest with a large Ravens logo embroidered on it. He wears it for all of his procedures.
Two days later, Goodell called to thank El-Haddad for his work and present him with the gift of two tickets to Super Bowl LV in Tampa Bay next February.
"It was wild – very wild," El-Haddad said of the call. "It feels weird. I feel like I know a lot of other people that probably deserve it more than me. But I'm not an idiot; I'm not going to say 'no' to Super Bowl tickets. It was a nice little win after a lot of stress and tough days."
As one of four cardiologists at Sinai, El-Haddad is not allowed to float to other parts of the hospital to help with the COVID-19 surge. They can't have him get infected and go into quarantine. At the same time, he has had patients who have tested positive.
His parents are staying with him for the time being, so when he goes home, he immediately throws his clothes into the washer and takes a shower to reduce the risk of contracting or spreading the disease.
"It's been very weird," he said. "I started off thinking, 'Oh, well hopefully it won't last too long.' I'm just hoping by football season it's normal – not for football. I would just hate for this to drag on for the sake of everybody's sanity and health. As much as I love football, it obviously pales in comparison. Everything has been worse than I was expecting so far. It's just awful."
Still, the NFL Draft was a welcomed distraction. Just like El-Haddad wears his Ravens lead vest to provide some levity and a way to connect to his patients, the draft was something to take his mind off the stress. Goodell's call on Saturday afternoon took it to another level.
"Oh my Gosh, you made my day," El-Haddad told Goodell. "I had a really rough day today too."
Now the only thing that will make the Super Bowl trip even sweeter will be if he gets to see his Ravens in Tampa.
El-Haddad was at the divisional playoff game in January, which the Ravens lost to the Tennessee Titans. After seeing the Ravens' draft haul, El-Haddad is even more sure Baltimore will get over the hump this season.
"I don't know how we're so lucky. How do we draft this well every year? DeCosta just blows me away," El-Haddad said. "Obviously I'm the biggest homer ever, but I would not be shocked if we ran the table this year. I want to be a Dream Team, just crush everybody."
But first, let's crush COVID-19.