Stories From the Front Lines: Emergency Medicine Staff and the Fight Against COVID-19

Stories From the Front Lines: Emergency Medicine Staff and the Fight Against COVID-19

Every night at 7 p.m., the streets of New York City, once cluttered with the noise of honking taxi cabs, buzzing crowds, and screeching trains, are now filled with a different sound?the sound of rhythmic chants and gracious applause.

From brownstones to huge apartment towers, residents all over the city open their windows and loudly proclaim their support and gratitude for the many doctors, advanced practice clinicians, nurses, paramedics, technicians, administrators, and everyone else working on the front lines in the fight against COVID-19.

This nightly display of recognition coincides with hospital shift breaks, so medical staff, whether they are leaving for the day, just starting a shift, or stepping out for a much-needed break, can feel the support of their city behind them. And that support is desperately needed for a community that has felt the impact of COVID-19 in ways other people may never know.

?All I want to do is go home and cry and go to sleep,? said a New York emergency room doctor who is regularly posting his COVID-19 impatient care stories on the r/medicine virtual lounge on Reddit. His sentiment reflects what nearly all of the emergency medical community is feeling right now? frustrated, sad, overwhelmed, and burnt out.

In fact, Reddit and other platforms are filled with stories from emergency room doctors, nurses, and staff describing the evolution of treating COVID-19. In the beginning, doctors were challenged by the presentation of the virus but hopeful. Stay-at-home orders designed to flatten the curve would surely help ease the burden until vaccines were developed and treatment plans were explored.

But as each day passed, the number of virus-stricken patients started to increase, and so did the number of deaths. Doctors became inundated by constantly changing guidance on treatment plans and hospital procedures. Refrigerated trucks were brought to many hospitals, especially in the Northeast, to serve as overflow morgues. Ventilators were in short supply. ERs were using up all of their medical supplies and personal protective equipment, leaving staff to make their own or re-use PPE designed to be worn only once. Frontline medical staff were also putting themselves at risk every shift, while having to distance themselves from their own families and loved ones to keep everyone safe.

Hooman Kamel, an intensivist at a Manhattan hospital, has been dealing with an N95 mask shortage while balancing staying safe on the job and being with his family.

Dr. Kamel has three N95 masks, one from his hospital and two that were sent to him from another primary-care physician in Minnesota. He has been wearing one mask during his 12-hour shift, which he then puts into a paper bag for several days. He hopes that will be enough. When he goes home, he puts on another mask to be around his family.

?I am wearing a mask at all times, which is pretty terrible,? Dr. Kamel said. ?I think the smell of surgical masks is going to be seared in my brain for life.?

In New Jersey, physician Frank Gabrin became the first emergency room doctor to die from COVID-19. He believed he contracted the virus when he reused equipment due to a shortage. In a message to a friend, he typed ?It was me using the same mask for four days in a row that infected me.? Masks are supposed to be used only once, and his prolonged use of the same mask underscores the scarcity of PPE equipment for emergency medical staff who care for COVID-19 patients day in and day out.

In this devastating environment where resources are in short supply, there are no predictable outcomes, and death has become more and more commonplace, the emotional toll is immense.

One emergency room doctor described having to tell a woman who was 22-weeks pregnant and had tested positive for COVID-19 that her baby no longer had a heartbeat. The woman?s husband was not allowed in the room because of the new hospital safety regulations, so the doctor sat with her as she grieved. In the middle of comforting her, he was quickly called to leave because another patient with the virus was coding.

Another ER doctor describes the all-too-familiar process of treating Phil, a patient who came in with shortness of breath that quickly escalated to being intubated. In his post, the doctor wrote, ?I get the sickly feeling that Phil might not live.? He tells Phil?s daughter that he?s really sick and on a ventilator, but that he?s doing better. The process itself has become commonplace and almost mundane, but the results, for the patient and also for the treating physician, far less predictable.

But even with these devastating stories and all of the uncertainty, the emergency medical community is still fighting.

In Dallas, a healthy 54-year-old and father of three became ill in March after taking a trip to Europe with his children. After returning home, he developed a fever, cough, and body aches, and he had extreme difficulty breathing. His wife took him to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, where he was diagnosed with COVID-19 and placed on a ventilator. Even after numerous treatment efforts, his condition rapidly declined. His team of doctors then decided to try an unconventional treatment. After 30 days on life support, the unconventional treatment worked, and this patient recovered.

In New York, registered nurse Emily Fawcett started ?Hope Huddles? after hearing horrific stories from emergency medical workers in the hospital who were responding to the COVID-19 outbreak day in and day out. The Hope Huddles are a time when workers can get together for a short time each day to share positive news and success stories.

?It really just came about to spread positivity, good patient outcomes, how we?re really saving lives here at Lenox Hill, and to kind of increase the morale and give us a little pep in our step,? Ms. Fawcett told the New York Post. ?We?re truly in a war zone here. The Hope Huddles are bringing hope to our hospital, and they?re bringing a little light.? 

In Illinois, doctors at the University of Chicago Medicine are seeing positive results with some new treatments as well.

?The success we?ve had has been truly remarkable,? said Michael O?Connor, Director of Critical Care Medicine at University of Chicago Medicine.

At EB Medicine, we understand the challenges front line medical clinicians face every day in the fight against COVID-19. We are proud to serve the emergency medical community, and we are here to offer support on the most difficult days and to celebrate your victories, no matter how large or small, on the good days. To learn about the latest evidence and treatments for COVID-19 What?s New page and our COVID-19 Protocols page.

Thank you for all you do.


Visit Our COVID-19 Memorial Page

Memorial page for Emergency Medicine Staff and the Fight Against COVID-19

Last Updated on June 12, 2022

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