Anesthesiologist, New York, New York
“When the pandemic hit, I was not on the front line. I never imagined that I would be thrust into this position. In the 14 years I have been an anesthesiologist, I can count on one hand how many deaths I have had on the operating table. I’ve never dealt well with death. … Since March, all elective surgeries have been cancelled. I spend fewer hours in the hospital during the week, but each hour is more intense. I have taken on the ‘airway role.’ I respond to emergency intubations in the medical center. Many of the COVID-19 patients I see are in their 30s, 40s and 50s with no comorbidities. Some are elderly; fewer are children. When these patients require ICU-level care, they often need extended respiratory support. They present with severe hypoxia or acute respiratory distress; their oxygen saturation levels are in the 50s or 60s. There is no time to waste delivering care. In my experience, 70 to 80 percent of those placed on ventilators pass away. It is difficult to predict who will live and who will die. … Here in New York, the unimaginable has become a ‘new normal.’ I recall a night on call when I was so emotionally drained. After a case, I pulled my cell phone out to call my pastor. As I moved toward a large window, I was paralyzed. Parked on the street below were four refrigerator trucks. Mobile morgues. No one prepares you for this. … One of the most anxiety-producing parts of my job has been the shortage of PPE. For weeks my team and I were intubating COVID-19 positive patients with nothing more than N95 masks, eye shields, gloves and gowns. Through a miracle, I was able to—with my own funds—secure essential protective gear for myself and my department. We are now better prepared for battle, at least physically. … It is so hard to be isolated from my family. My four young children cannot comprehend why I cannot hug or kiss them or why when I am home, I am in quarantine in our home office. If I do have coronavirus, I don’t want to infect my family. There are people with mild symptoms or who are in the asymptomatic phase. We have no idea what the transmission potential of those asymptomatic patients is or how long that phase is. There is so much about this virus that we do not know. … My oldest son just turned nine. His birthday brought with it a frightening realization. I want to see my kids grow old, to spend time with my wife. I want to hang out with my boys and do stupid manly things and I want to see my girls on their wedding days. … I am far from a hero. I am a physician. I held and still hold a moral commitment to provide care to those who need it, despite risk to myself. That was the oath I took when I became a physician.”
As told to Jennifer Schaffer Leone
April 2, 2020
Digest, the magazine for alumni and friends of Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, is published by the Office of Marketing and Communications. The magazine reports on osteopathic and other professional trends of interest to alumni of the College’s Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) and graduate programs at PCOM, PCOM Georgia and PCOM South Georgia.