In the Era of COVID-19: What I Learned on a COVID-19 Floor

I too want this to end. I like many of us am not as essential as I thought I was.  I’m a physician, a cardiologist; I am not an ER physician, an intensivist (a physician who specializes in the care of critically care patients usually in the ICU), or a hospitalist (a physician who works exclusively in a hospital).

Patients as a result of this pandemic were making the decision not to come to the hospital for their chest pain, irregular heartbeat, or their dizziness. I began to see people, or actually not see people in my office. My time as a physician was being spent on phone calls and telemedicine visits reassuring patients, managing their illnesses remotely and encouraging them to continue to remain as active as possible so that their hearts would survive this pandemic.

We know now that people were deferring treatment for cardiac care which, in some cases led to their death. That’s difficult. Because many patients are still advised to use telemedicine, those who do will receive instructions about whether and where to seek treatment. Once directed, these Emergency Rooms and hospitals are now safe for patients. Hospitals are being super careful and taking all precautions. Patients are safe.

Nevertheless, I have had much time to think. To contemplate how we ended up here as a nation.

The idea that we were not prepared for something like this, that we were left at risk our nurses, our transporters, our patient care techs – and other essential workers is disheartening. That initially our government told us not to wear masks; to reuse personal protective Equipment (PPE). That there were fights over ventilators.  It’s just unfathomable.

Our Former President warned of a pandemic from a respiratory illness lurking – and he warned that we should be prepared. The idea that the richest nation in the world did not set aside a minuscule portion of its budget to have PPE at the ready to protect its essential workers and to aid in the treatment of its citizen was disheartening and is disheartening. The sacrifices we asked of our essential workers were unfair.

This pandemic made clear just how important leadership is and how failed leaders can lead to death. That leadership had allowed this pandemic to become a partisan divide. Leadership that decided that everyone figuring it out on their own was the correct course of action. This time I had from not being as productive at work, like so many others, led me to a somewhat dark place. The emotional toll of feeling helpless is taking an emotional toll on all of us.

However, there have many things that have heartened me throughout this time. By the sacrifices that families have made, that essential workers have made, the efforts of communities to support each other. These give me hope that the future will be good. That we will have learned our lesson and that we will be prepared. That our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren will not be left blindsided by another pandemic like this.

I, like many of my partners, volunteered to assist in the intensive unit. My time finally came in May. However, when my time came, the surge had quieted and I still was not as essential as I thought. The intensives needed only a little help, but I was happy to be part of it. What this pandemic did remind me of was my time as a medical student and resident.

That was the time of the HIV/AIDS epidemic a sudden burst of disease that felt as though it came out of nowhere. Suddenly some of the world’s most well trained and most knowledgable doctors of infectious disease and in critical care did not have the answers and were unsure as to what to do to treat these very ill patients. These patients prior to contracting AIDS/HIV had been well.

But what reminds me of it most is that there was a similar call to action by the medical community to try and save as many lives as possible. And by the scientific community to come up with treatments with studies – that would beat back the spiral of death. I’m left hopeful – that we also as a community will beat this back.

The coronavirus will not just magically disappear but our resolve and our engagement will save many lives and teach us for the future.  I am hopeful and look forward to turning the corner even more sharply. When the next wave comes, we will need to continue to keep social distance and to limit interactions.

We honor the fallen by taking an accounting of what happened. By never again being this unprepared. Rationing PPE at hospitals created shortages for essential staff and forced people to fend for themselves. Macro changes need to occur in terms of supply lines. Communities should demand a national stockpile. It’s inefficient otherwise. There should be a factory somewhere that can be turned on that can make a multitude of different items in times of need. So that if a pandemic hits, or if there is a similar need people will be ready to start producing whatever is necessary.

We are honored to feature this account from a frontline worker in the COVID-19 pandemic.

This the twelfth in a series of articles to provide guidance as to navigating situations we continue to navigate during the COVID-19/Coronavirus pandemic. We recognize that life continues in all aspects, even the pandemic impacts all of us in profound ways. We are on your team now as well as post-pandemic – and beyond. We invite you to visit our library of situationally specific articles here.


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