A Doctor’s Diary: A system overwhelmed

(Day 2 of a special Efe series featuring the first-hand account of pediatric surgeon Colleen Fitzpatrick, who offered her support to an ICU for adults at a community hospital outside New York City, the global epicenter of the coronavirus)

New York, May 6 (efe-epa).- Once I arrived in New York, I was assigned to a COVID-19 ICU at Syosset Community Hospital on Long Island.

As the number of cases began to rise (an estimated 16.7 percent of Long Island’s population had been infected by mid-April), the hospital’s normal capacity was quickly exceeded, so they converted the operating room recovery unit into a large, open Intensive Care Unit.

We typically had around 15 patients in the unit, most of them on ventilators. The patients were sick and days in the unit were very busy and sometimes overwhelming.

Also, our medical system is definitely overwhelmed. I think this probably looks different at different hospitals, but it includes any combination of inadequate personal protective equipment (PPE), the number of patients exceeding the usual hospital capacity, the number of deaths exceeding the capacity of the hospital morgue, the acuity of the patients being much greater than is typical for a hospital, supplies running out, equipment running out and hospital staff getting sick themselves.

(I’m certain this is an incomplete list.)

In the time I’ve been working in the unit – in 12-hour shifts, sometimes longer – I have definitely seen our approach to treating COVID-19 evolve. Not having a definitive treatment strategy has been frustrating, though once things slow down and the data can be reviewed we will have a better understanding of how to best address this disease.

Knowing that people are dying and being aware of their family members who are suffering, it feels selfish to write about the challenge of personal separation, but this is impacting health care workers in different ways.

For me, I am at my parents’ house in New York, while they are at my house in St. Louis, Missouri, with my dog Curtis. It is weird for me to be here in their house without them and it’s lonely without Curtis.

For other health care workers, the impact has been much greater – sending their children away to live with relatives, or sleeping in the basement or garage, or staying at a hotel so as to not infect an immunocompromised spouse at home. Each person’s experience is unique and different. Each person copes with this stress and the reality of COVID-19 in their own way.

For now, I’m getting ready for another 12-hour day. I am glad to know my great friend and medical school classmate, who contracted the coronavirus while working in New York City, and whose experience helped convince me to come here, has already recovered and returned to work.

In fact, she was recently interviewed on the “Today Show” for developing a system to facilitate improved communication with families, so that families receive timely updates on their loved ones without increasing the workload of the doctors and nurses at the patient’s bedside.

She worked on this while at home recovering. EFE-EPA


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