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The death of Dr. Amanda Cook Zivic from COVID-19: A loss for family and friends, for psychiatry, in some way for us all | COMMENTARY

Dr. Amanda Cook Zivic and her husband, Mike Zivic. Dr. Cook died from COVID-19 on December 23.
Dr. Amanda Cook Zivic and her husband, Mike Zivic. Dr. Cook died from COVID-19 on December 23. (Zivic family)

One year has passed since the first U.S. case of the novel coronavirus arrived in Snohomish County, Washington, while the rest of us, 328 million of us, went about our business, the scope of sickness and death in the coming months unimaginable.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the positive test of a 35-year-old man who had returned to the United States from China on Jan. 15, 2020. The agency told us what it knew about the case, then concluded its report by saying “the CDC continues to believe the risk of 2019-nCoV to the American public at large remains low at this time.”

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We all know the rest. We lived it. We’re still living it.

We stand on the banks of a swelling river of news about infections, hospitalizations, deaths. Some of us know people who died in the pandemic, but many do not. The casualty reports have started to become background noise, or like the small-print lists of American combat deaths that years ago appeared in newspapers.

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By Thursday morning, the Johns Hopkins tracker had American deaths at 384,764. Maryland’s toll was 6,233. There’s neither time nor bandwidth for lengthy obituaries for each of the deceased.

The scale of daily death from the pandemic takes me to an oft-quoted John Donne poem I first read 50 years ago, and the words, “Any man’s death diminishes me.”

How is such a thing possible? The world is a big place. Life is full of death. People come and go. How are we diminished by the deaths of those we do not know, strangers in far-off nations or even down the street?

Just as scientists come each day closer to understanding the full effects of the virus, the virus brings me closer to understanding Donne’s audacious call to conscience.

Not since the last pandemic, a century ago, has there been such a loss of life on the American continent. It’s an overwhelming crisis and hard to comprehend. But, if you turn the numbers into faces, you can feel the loss at a critical mass. You think of breadwinners who died, auto mechanics who died, teachers who died, scientists, nurses and doctors who died — multiples of each and each part of the nation, the nation diminished by the death of each.

Our losses from this crisis are immeasurable but discernible, and far heavier than we can yet appreciate.

It hit me as I listened to what Amy Morgan, a social worker, had to say about her colleague and friend, Dr. Amanda Denise Cook Zivic, a 44-year-old forensic psychiatrist who died just before Christmas. Amy and Amanda worked together at Clifton T. Perkins Hospital, the state psychiatric hospital in Jessup. Amanda evaluated and treated patients, testified about them in court.

In her work, she touched a lot of lives.

“She was an excellent doctor,” Amy says. “She was clinically astute, an excellent diagnostician, smart as a whip. The patients respected her. She was tough when she needed to be, soft when she needed to be. I saw her interview patients and testify in court. Her death is a great loss for the forensic psychiatry world.”

And for her friends and family, her husband and children.

Amanda Cook fell in love with forensic psychiatry around the time she fell in love with Mike Zivic, a schoolteacher she met in a club in Baltimore when they were both in their 20s. He’d come from Pittsburgh; she’d come from Virginia. He was a teacher at South River High School in Anne Arundel County; she was in her residency at the University of Maryland Medical Center. They were a public service couple — one an educator and coach, the other a doctor devoted to the treatment of some of the most severely impaired and troubled people in Maryland.

Amanda and Mike were married in 2004. They bought a rowhouse near Patterson Park. They renovated a second, larger home nearby and moved there in the spring of 2010. They had two children, first a boy named Jackson, now 8, then a daughter named Kensington, now 6.

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“She was just an amazing person, she was absolutely gorgeous … she was incredibly smart,” says Amanda’s husband, who still teaches at South River and coaches the girls basketball team there. “Amanda grew up poor, but she didn’t use that as an excuse. She used it as motivation to become a doctor. … She was an amazing mother. I couldn’t ask for a better partner.”

In December, Amanda became ill with a bacterial infection, and so sick one day she called Mike to say she could not walk. She went to Johns Hopkins Hospital. Tests for the coronavirus were negative, but then one day a test confirmed a COVID infection. She had trouble breathing. She was on a ventilator in a negative pressure room. Her condition worsened. Mike was with her when she died two weeks later on Dec. 23.

“I never thought this would happen,” he says. “It’s incredibly hurtful. It just doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t seem normal … It doesn’t seem … anything.”

I asked about his kids.

“I don’t know how much they’re comprehending right now,” he said. “I know they miss her. … They’re definitely doing better than me.”

I expressed my sympathy, but the words seemed so meager compared to the size of the man’s loss and, each day, the immeasurable but discernible losses for us all.

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