A Doctor’s Diary: An effective treatment remains elusive

(The third installment 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 7 (EFE).- At Long Island’s Syosset Hospital in New York state, the days are sometimes long, and grim. It is distressing to not have a clear treatment for coronavirus patients whose clinical picture deteriorates rapidly after their arrival.

Although I’ve seen it all in my nearly 20 years as a surgeon, clearly the biggest surprise to me is how little is known about treating COVID-19.

The disease caused by the virus is unlike anything we have seen before, and while support is provided to treat the symptoms of the disease there isn’t actually a cure for the virus.

I didn’t fully appreciate this until working at this hospital. I think, like many, I had this notion that once we got beyond the peak in the number of cases and things began to slow down we would be able to resume our normal lives.

Now I realize that, once we get beyond the peak, we still need to be vigilant at preventing further disease spread because the virus will still be out there and we still won’t have a cure.

Once our health care systems are no longer overwhelmed, outcomes will likely improve. But until we have a better understanding of how to treat COVID-19, people will continue to die.

In the few weeks I have been working in the unit, I have seen our approach to treatment evolve as we try to understand the disease and try new medications. Unfortunately, nothing yet has proven to be the perfect answer.

Once things slow down, there will be a tremendous amount of data to review and there will be a great deal for us to learn. It’s going to take a lot of scientific study.

Not having answers about how to treat the disease is very frustrating when communicating with the families of patients. Understandably, families want answers.

I can’t even begin to image how frustrating it is for them every time they hear a doctor say, “I don’t know.” Truly, I wish we had better answers.

Meanwhile, the teams in the hospital work tirelessly to care for patients as their bodies fight off the infection and all the problems caused by the virus.

The pandemic (which has now led to more than 320,000 cases and 25,000 deaths in New York state alone) has forced health care workers everywhere to work many back-to-back shifts of 8 hours, 12 hours and longer, both day and night.

The tempo can be relentless and the sense of being trapped inside PPE (personal protective equipment) is constant, though for everyone it is an essential lifeline.

Some days are better than others and we have all learned to celebrate the successes. All are united in saving as many lives as possible and look forward to the days when COVID-19 is in the past. EFE


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