‘Through other fans, I’ve been able to share grief and laughs’: A critical care doctor on the joy of cheering for the Raptors

A diehard Raptors fan since day one, Shankar Sivananthan has spent the past year cherishing the scroll down his Twitter timeline as a way to break up the days (and nights) working as a critical-care doctor during COVID.

“Being on Twitter during games gives me some semblance of normalcy,” says Sivananthan, who tweets under the handle @shanxonline. “[Through] other fans, I’ve been able to share joy, grief and laughs. Even when the Raptors aren’t playing great, I know there’ll be a GIF or a meme out there that will at least make it fun.”

Sivananthan has been on Twitter for a decade, nearly as long as he’s been with his wife, nurse practitioner Mandy Sivananthan. They had their first date at a Raptors game and have continued the tradition of date-night game night ever since.

In 2019, when the Raptors were in the NBA Finals, the couple’s fandom became a family affair. Sivananthan was already scheduled to travel to San Francisco to attend Games 3 and 4, but Mandy decided she simply couldn’t miss out on experiencing the championship run, so she bought a ticket for herself and their two kids.

When the Raptors clinched the title during Game 6, Sivananthan was at Oracle Arena. “I absolutely lost it,” recalls Sivananthan. “It was the climax of over 20 years of being a Raptors fan. Every glimpse of hope during the Vince [Carter] era and the [Chris] Bosh era, the 2015 to 2018 potential and losses, all culminated in that moment.”

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When he isn’t tweeting about the latest Raptors win, Sivananthan is sharing COVID information.

A series of tweets about the first COVID patient Sivananthan admitted into the ICU went viral last fall. That Twitter thread ended on a tragic note: “The first patient with COVID I admitted to the ICU was 23 years old. He died.”

Sivananthan says he shares these experiences to drive home the reality of the disease he deals with every day.

“I’ve told stories of people you wouldn’t expect to get sick who have gotten to the ICU because of COVID,” he says. “I like to share medical facts about the disease and, now especially, about the vaccine. I hope that [because people know] me as a Raptors fan and as a physician, my shares will be more trustworthy than some of the other things people see [online] that simply aren’t true.”

Sivananthan wants everyone to remember that when it comes to the pandemic, we’re all on the same team. As we get further into a lengthy vaccine rollout, Sivananthan’s game plan to defeat COVID-19 is simple: “Play the defensive, protect the lead and secure the win so we can get things back to normal sooner than later.”

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