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Published on November 10, 2020

female doctor wearing face shield and mask

Caring for COVID-19: What Doctors Say

Avera’s hospitalists have been fighting on the front lines of the pandemic since March. In the following Q&A, Mohammad Ahmed, MD; Sanya Kayani, MD; Muhammad Khan, MD; Anata Subedi, MD; and Tejaswini Vasamsetty, MD, share their perspective on what it’s been like to care for COVID-19 patients in the hospital.

What has your experience been like?

Dr. Ahmed: It’s been a challenge, and it’s been a roller coaster — both in terms of the medical aspect of things and the emotional aspect of things. Our patients struggle with isolation and they are fearful because they know so many people are dying from COVID-19. At the same time, we have to stay up-to-date on research.

Dr. Khan: In the hospital, we’re dealing with patients who are very, very sick, which means we are confronting a lot of end-of-life situations — and it’s not just the elderly. We’re caring for people in their 20s and 30s in the prime of their lives. That’s one thing that weighs on you a lot.

Dr. Kayani: There are times when you want to run straight into a patient's room — when there's a rapid response or a code or you want to check in and speak with a patient in person. No matter the situation, you have to pause, gown up, glove up, make sure your mask is secure before you go in.

And then you see the patients getting lonely and frustrated, and you feel for them because if you were in their shoes you'd want your spouse there; you wouldn't want to be sitting all day alone in a room, especially when thinking depressing or gloomy thoughts. I want to be there for patients and go into rooms without a second thought, but you can't. If you’re exposed, you won't just affect yourself but everyone else around you. You have to be more careful and more judicious, and you have to check yourself twice before going back into ask a follow-up question. That’s been difficult.

Dr. Vasamsetty: Perhaps we were thrown into caring for COVID-19 patients more directly than other physicians, but their work has been incredibly valuable — the adjustments they've made to their practices to care for patients and keep them out of the hospital have been important. And they've stepped forward and volunteered to train and be back up. Everyone's banded together well. I work in the transfer center, and I'm amazed at the number of hospitalizations out in the system. It's commendable to see the work all the facilities have done to be able to care for patients locally.

How have you found balance? How are you taking care of yourself physically, emotionally, spiritually?

Dr. Kayani: For me, it’s not so much about finding balance outside of the hospital, but more so finding balance inside the hospital. It’s having the mindset of this is where life is at — I do have to wear a mask and a shield into every room; I have to be more cautious than I normally would. What's really helpful in keeping myself mentally in a good space is I'm very blessed to be working with colleagues who are very wonderful people; they're very supportive, very friendly. Everybody seems to have this community spirit, and they're cheerful, willing to put in the work and extra effort. They don't complain, they don't get negative, they don't get down or depressed. I think that's what's really helped me get through this.

Dr. Khan: The biggest thing, the biggest support system, is having partners. We take turns rotating through the COVID-19 team, so back-up is always there. And the nursing staff stands right beside us. Everyone is willing to share the workload and help out whenever and however they can. There’s a lot of peace of mind in knowing that the system is standing by your side, providing appropriate PPE for providers and staff.

What do you wish our patients and communities understood about COVID-19?

Dr. Vasamsetty: When we first started seeing the numbers rapidly rising, we were scared and trying to adjust as much as we can. We’ve gotten more comfortable with it now that we’ve learned more about how to manage these patients. I think sometimes people, particularly in the community, forget that COVID-19 hasn’t stopped being dangerous. We are more comfortable with it now that we’ve been taking care of patients for months, but COVID-19 puts patients in the hospital; it puts patients in the ICU and that hasn’t changed.

Dr. Subedi: Even when we do get a vaccine, a mask is still going to be very important in protecting ourselves and our families. Prevention is key, still, for everyone. Just because we have come a long way does not mean that we’re not dealing with complications, that patients aren’t dying. Continue to be vigilant about wearing a mask, not just for your protection, but for those around you. And trust the medical community because we are blessed to have scientific experts and good resources here.

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