Blog | Thursday, April 2, 2020

Working during a pandemic reinforces that health care workers are heroes

I spent the last week working in a large community hospital in a state with a soaring number of coronavirus cases. I previously had a few days off while this whole situation was escalating, and heard from colleagues that our hospital was taking huge measures to prepare for the onslaught. New protocols were being put in place, there was a scramble for personal protective equipment (PPE), and the hospital had dedicated an entire medical floor exclusively for coronavirus patients. Two new walls were rapidly constructed to make the whole unit negative pressure (in other words, seal it off and theoretically lower the potential contagion). That floor is rather tucked away in a corner of the hospital, away from other floors. It is used to having general medical patients, but not necessarily specialized in high acuity cases.

I wasn't sure what to expect when I started work. Would everyone be on edge? Would there be a sense of doom? Would all my colleagues be projecting a sense of alarm? Very soon after walking in to inherit my list of patients, which included some with suspected coronavirus, those questions were decisively answered. Everyone around me, from doctors and nurses, to housekeeping and unit clerks, had risen to the occasion magnificently. Unlike the sense of panic and hysteria one can get from watching cable news and scrolling through social media, the health care workers in our hospital were the total model of professionalism, calmness, and selflessness. We were absorbing information and guidelines that were changing on an almost hourly basis, while giving 110% to care for the patients in front of us. I would hazard a guess that this was the case in most hospitals up and down the country. It's what we all signed up for, and despite limited supplies and rationing of equipment, we would not neglect our duty at this time of crisis. I couldn't have been prouder to work among such an amazing group of people.

But back to the special “coronavirus unit” our hospital had created at light speed. I have been seeing patients on that floor for years. They have an excellent bunch of nurses and aides. We are all used to sharing a laugh and trying to keep things as lighthearted as possible in the environment that is health care. I didn't know what would hit me when I first walked onto this new walled off unit. Would it feel completely different?

I have written previously about how nurses are the superstars of health care, but nothing could have made me more certain of this after seeing the professionalism of the staff on that unit. They really got thrown into this situation, and despite the dire circumstances, were going above and beyond to care for their patients. And they did it all while trying to maintain a semblance of normalcy about the situation. I was blown away with how well everyone on that floor had adapted to their grim new reality, treating a highly contagious disease that none of us had even heard of a few months ago. Lives needed to be saved, and they'd all been called to action.

Heroes come in all shapes and sizes. It's been quite eye-opening these last couple of weeks to watch normal society as we know it unravel, and adjust to an unprecedented situation. One thing in particular that struck me was seeing the reaction of a number of celebrities and sports stars stuck in their homes. Some of the pictures and videos posted online have been quite obnoxious, as they appear to be desperately bidding for some attention at this unique time (perhaps realizing for the first time that their jobs are really not that essential). Their days of fame in the limelight will surely come again soon. But I hope etched in the memory of many people for years to come, will be that at this time of national crisis, when the health of millions was at stake, we have seen who the real everyday quiet heroes are.

Suneel Dhand is an internal medicine physician, author and speaker. He is the founder of DocSpeak Communications and co-founder at DocsDox. He blogs at his self-titled site, where this post first appeared.