Sai-Kit Wong, DO ’03 April 28, 2020
PCOM Heroes of the Front Line
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
About Digest Magazine
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.