COVID-19 through the lens of Andrew Hendrix, former Notre Dame QB and current med student

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

The closest Andrew Hendrix got to topping the quarterback depth chart at Notre Dame was late in the 2011 season, when sophomore classmate and starter Tommy Rees was scuffling.

Hendrix saw significant action in relief during both the regular-season finale at Stanford (a 28-14 loss) and ND’s 18-14, come-from-ahead defeat against Florida State in the Champs Sport Bowl roughly a month later.

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly opened up the QB competition the following spring, and the winner was … Everett Golson, who had redshirted as a freshman in 2011 and would go on to be a key figure in ND’s rise to the No. 1 spot in the polls for the first time in two decades, late in 2012.

Though Hendrix did become a starter, and a more-than-adequate one after taking a grad transfer to Miami (Ohio) in 2014, not overtaking Rees — ND’s current offensive coordinator — late in 2011 meant his aspirations of becoming a doctor moved onto the front burner in his life.

The product of Cincinnati Moeller High, a perennial football power in Ohio and nationally, also once had a promising future in baseball. And he did dabble in some pro football tryouts briefly after finishing up at Miami.

But he didn’t linger in either of them, and pursued what he now considers his true calling. Hendrix was just finishing up his third year of medical school at the University of Toledo when the COVID-19 global pandemic found its way to the United States.

The following is an unfiltered look, in Hendrix’s own words, at what it’s like to be a med school student during this time as well as how he might view the pandemic and its ramifications through the lens of a Notre Dame student-athlete.

* * *

At the time of the outbreak in the U.S., I was on a psychiatry rotation, which is part of third-year requirements for me, not that it’s the road I’m ultimately going down.

Former ND quarterback Andrew Hendrix finally got a chance to be a starter, in 2014, after grad transferring to Miami (Ohio).

I was actually at a senior behavioral inpatient health center. And that’s kind of like the most severe demographic that COVID-19 affects.

At the time we were very precautious, with hand-washing and things like that. So my attending physician was really on top of everything in what we needed to do to prevent spreading it. Because again, if the virus had gotten into our patient population, it would be incredibly severe.

So he was on top of it. We took every precaution.

Some people might wonder whether a med school student might have more insight into COVID-19 than the average person, even though it’s not my specialty.

Honestly, no. As a medical student with some sort of medical knowledge, I understand how it can happen — how the disease passes, the physiology of it.

But the epidemiology of how this thing started just a few months ago with one individual, and it spread and now there’s hundreds of thousands of cases that’s growing and there are thousands of deaths from this, it’s mind-boggling.

I think for everyone it’s mind-boggling. Regardless of your medical knowledge, it’s unfathomable to think that this is keeping everyone in our country inside of their houses unless they want to go for a walk or go get groceries.

It’s pretty crazy. So regardless of how much you know about medicine or how much you don’t know, I think it’s taken everybody by storm.

I do have an understanding about the vaccine piece to this. So right after my year in Miami, I spent some time doing research at Vanderbilt. I kind of understand, at least a little bit, how the physician-scientist interaction goes. And I can tell you, it’s very, very slow.

Former ND QB Andrew Hendrix, here taking direction from Irish coach Brian Kelly in the spring of 2012, understands why people miss sports so much.

They are very precautious, which is why all the data, all the studies, you can trust, because there’s a great deal of scrutiny.

That’s why it’s important, especially for things that involve human trials, because you can’t give someone a vaccine for a virus that you don’t know the side-effect profile for. All of the sudden the side effects are worse than what the vaccine is treating?

And you’re giving it to people, and you don’t know how they’re going to respond. So I know they’re expediting that as best they can. But it’s important to put safety above all. When those things are ready, they’ll definitely help — just like the flu vaccine is incredibly important.

Hopefully, they’ll get a vaccine as quickly as possible that will do a lot for helping all of this.

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Minimally, I have one more year of medical school left, but likely I’ll have more than that, because I’m probably going to end up specializing in cardiology. For those fourth-year students who were just finishing up this spring, it looked like many of them would get pulled into duty on the front lines with the virus.

Kind of looking where things are headed, it would seem like the demand will go down. I know that’s happening for some fourth-years now.

If I was in that position, I would be more than happy to do it. But right now, I’m just a medical learner. I don’t have the ability to put in prescriptions and treat patients right now.

Honestly, I would love to be in the hospital, working with these patients, doing anything we can to prevent the overcrowding. As a medical student, they’ve told us there’s not enough personal protective equipment. ‘So even though we know how bad you want to come in and help, you just can’t right now. And it’s for your best, for everyone’s safety.’

So it really puts us between a rock and a hard place. We basically signed up for this. We want to help in any way we can, but right now the best way we can help is just to take care of ourselves.

I’m fresh out of an exam today, and my mind is kind of a scrambled egg right now. As a result of COVID-19 and the stay-at-home order in Ohio, I took the exam online at home, which is basically unheard of.

Normally, taking an exam is like getting into the Super Bowl. The security is super high. We have to leave all of our things in the back of the room usually. We go into a room. It’s on secured software.

Today, basically they rigged up a Skype session, where we could take the exam online. It was really a relaxed deal. It was kind of bizarre. My wife was running around, and I had to tell her to be quiet a few times.

It’s just so weird, because normally they are so secure. They don’t want these questions getting out. They don’t want you to share. They don’t want you to cheat. They don’t want you to do anything, so basically it’s like airport security getting into these exams, and now they just let us take it from our house.

I guess they just assume that we’re future doctors, that we have at least some integrity. So we wouldn’t cheat, but it was certainly a bizarre experience.

It was a psychiatry exam. It’s supposed to be one of the easier exams. I thought it went well. It was just so much reading. By the time you get done with it, you’re just ready to do absolutely nothing. So I’m just ready to veg out all night, I think.

I think for the first couple of years of my medical school, I was deciding between surgery and doing non-surgery. And then my third year — that’s when you get into the hospitals, do all your clinical rotations — I really decided surgery wasn’t for me.

I like the internal medicine aspect of it, interacting with patients on a ward. Doing more of my medicine thinking rather than surgically. So I think moving forward, I’m going to try to do internal medicine for my residency, then probably pursue cardiology.

I’ve always loved the heart. It’s a fascinating organ. That’s probably what I’m going to end up doing.

With cardiology, I’ll finish medical school then I’ll do three years of residency and internal medicine, and then I will have three more years of fellowship after that. Including my fourth year of medical school, that’s seven more years.

Luckily, you start to get paid in residency. With all the hours you work, you end up making minimum wage. But after you’ve been in debt and in the red for so long, it’s going to feel like I’m in a swimming pool of dollar bills.

Med school never stops, although the virus is making it tougher in some instances. In my fourth year, for example, it would not be possible to do online learning, because third- and fourth-years are both all done in the hospitals. Especially in your third year.

Fortunately for me, I’ve finished the overwhelming majority of my third-year hospital work.

You can do some things in the fourth year that would make it manageable outside of the hospital, but a lot of fourth year is actually doing residency interviews, so that’s really what could be an issue for me. If all these hospitals and residency programs that I could go interview for, if they start canceling those, those could be more online for me.

I prefer them to be in person. I prefer them to be face-to-face interaction. I think I would be more impressive as an applicant in that manner versus just being on a screen with them talking. That’s how that would affect me, more so than really the hospital work in general.

I got off social media for the time being. I’m fairly confident I’ve never said anything remotely inappropriate or that would get me in trouble. But when you’re applying for residencies, they dig as deep as possible, because you’re going to be working in their hospitals. And they want to make sure that you are who you say you are.

* * *

If I could go back in time and be a Notre Dame football player during this, I’ll guess I’ll have to start by assuming that I wasn’t feeling super invulnerable, like most teenagers feel all the time.

We always felt like super humans, so I don’t know that I would have thought about the potential dangers of starting to practice and play football again. I guess if I was being more precautious, I would trust the staff and administration that they would never put us in a compromised position.

I think we have great infrastructure at Notre Dame. They would never do anything to put anyone in harm’s way ever, so just trusting in that — that they would exercise their precaution and it wouldn’t be worrisome.

I know I would feel anxious about potentially NOT playing, because you have only three or four or five years to do this. And to have any benefit of it taken away, it would be just devastating, because it’s some of the best years of your life.

To have this, for seniors — even high school seniors — to just have their entire basketball season or baseball season wiped away, it has to be very hard. I think that would be something that would be tough to get over for sure.

As busy as I am, I still always follow the Irish. Everything Irish. Irish or (Miami) RedHawks. That’s where I’m at.

I understand how much people miss sports, and that’s not coming from a psychiatric perspective and just having taken a psychiatric exam today. I know on a personal level.

Former Notre Dame quarterback Andrew Hendrix (12), here against BYU in 2012, is a third-year medical school student these days at the University of Toledo.

If I’m not doing something medicine-related, sports is basically my life. Sports is the best thing that’s out there. It’s the most entertaining thing. The thought of coming home and not having something to watch on television really can be depressing.

I’m a huge LeBron guy. I’m shameless in saying it. So not having the NBA on right now, not having the (Cincinnati) Reds on, not being able to be able to watch spring ball, the spring (Blue-Gold) game. All these things cascading — March Madness. It really is terrible.

Hopefully, we can get through this as quickly as possible. Are we going to push things back? There are so many questions right now. It will be interesting to see how all of this ends up, but I think we’re trending positively right now in a lot of ways, so there’s a lot of hope.

Andrew Hendrix (12) never was able to pass classmate Tommy Rees (11) on the Notre Dame QB depth chart, and that helped bring Hendrix’s calling for a career in medicine into focus.