When Ajlan Al Zaki began his residency in internal medicine at Stanford University in 2018, he had no idea that two years later he would be on the front lines of California's battle against the coronavirus pandemic that has killed nearly 50,000 people worldwide.
The Emirati doctor says he can barely remember what life was like before the outbreak.
Dr Al Zaki now works more than 12 hours a day treating coronavirus patients of all ages at Stanford University's hospital, as cases in California approach 10,000.
"This an unprecedented, I could not imagine seeing something like this in my lifetime," he told The National.
The coronavirus outbreak has turned Stanford “into a ghost town”, he says.
Dr Al Zaki, 34, a Buhooth Scholarship recipient from Khalifa University, treats coronavirus patients who need close monitoring.
Their symptoms vary, he says. Between 20 and 30 per cent of patients have no symptoms, while the others develop fever, coughs, muscle pain or shortness of breath, he says.
Some also experience a loss of their senses of smell and taste as well.
Born and raised in Abu Dhabi, Dr Al Zaki also studied at the George Washington University after moving to the US in 2005.
He considers California's doctors luckier than many at this stage because hospitals in the state are not at full capacity and physicians do not have to choose which patients to treat first.
Dr Al Zaki says this is because the state was quick to enforce quarantine measures on March 9.
With the number of cases in the US now past 213,000, the most of any country, he says early signs were missed when the virus was wreaking havoc in China and Italy.
The biggest limits facing the US are “testing capabilities and expanding hospital capacity”, Dr Al Zaki says.
He says his home country showed a more robust and aggressive approach through the night curfew, very early mass testing at airports and the drive-through public testing introduced recently.
“It’s better than what I see being done here in the US,” Dr Al Zaki says.
Dr Al Zaki says scientists have long anticipated the emergence of a virus like Sars-Cov2, pointing to previous coronavirus outbreaks such as Sars, H1N1, the Spanish flu and Mers
“We have known for many years that a virus like this could happen," he says.
He is not certain when a vaccine will be developed, but says clinical trials at Stanford and other places could prove successful.
At the same time, treatments such as remdesivir, tocilizumab and convalescent serum also hold potential.
The key to winning the fight, Dr Al Zaki says, is co-ordination between doctors across the globe and the public adhering to restrictions to stop the spread of the virus.
Although the UAE has been repatriating its citizens from the US, he says he will not be leaving his mission at Stanford.
“As hard as it is being separated from family and from my country, I am reminded every day I go to work of how fortunate I am to have my health and be able to help people,” Dr Al Zaki says.
Dr Ajlan Al Zaki is an Internal Medicine Resident at Stanford University Hospital. These are his views and may not necessarily represent the views of his institution.