Finding light in the darkness
Internist, also has worked in a professional role that was created because of COVID-19.
Shortly beforewas deployed to Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Ma., for 2 weeks in April of 2020 to help clinicians with an anticipated surge of COVID-19 cases, she encountered a patient who walked into Baystate’s High Street Health Center.
“I think I have COVID-19,” the patient proclaimed to her, at the outpatient clinic that serves mostly inner-city, Medicaid patients.
Prior to becoming an ambulatory internist, Dr. Jobbins was a surgical resident. “So I went into that mode of ‘I need to do this, this, and this,’ ” she said. “I went through a checklist in my head to make sure I was prepared to take care of the patient.”
She applied that same systems approach during her redeployment assignment in the tertiary care hospital, which typically involved 10-hour shifts overseeing internal medicine residents in a medical telemetry unit. “We would take care of people under investigation for COVID-19, but we were not assigned to the actual COVID unit,” said Dr. Jobbins, who is also associate program director for the internal medicine residency program at the University of Massachusetts Medical School–Baystate Springfield. “They tried to redeploy other people to those units who had special training, and we were trying to back fill into where those people that got moved to the COVID units or the ICU units were actually working. We were taking more of the medical side of the floors.”
Even so, one patient on the unit was suspected of having COVID-19, so Dr. Jobbins suited up with personal protective equipment and conducted a thorough exam with residents waiting outside the patient’s room, a safe distance away. “I explained everything I found on the exam to the residents, trying to give them some educational benefit, even though they couldn’t physically examine the patient because we’re trying to protect them since they’re in training,” she said. “It was anxiety provoking, on some level, knowing that there’s a potential risk of exposure [to the virus], but knowing that Baystate Health has gone to extraordinary measures to make sure we have the correct PPE and support us is reassuring. I knew I had the right equipment and the right tools to take care of the patient, which calmed my nerves and made me feel like I could do the job. That’s the most important thing as a physician during this time: knowing that you have people supporting you who have your back at all times.”
Like Dr. Dakkak, Dr. Jobbins had to make some adjustments to her interaction with her family.
Before she began the deployment, Dr. Jobbins engaged in a frank discussion with her husband and her two young boys about the risks she faced working in a hospital caring for patients with COVID-19. “My husband and I made sure our wills were up to date, and we talked about what we would do if either of us got the virus,” she said. To minimize the potential risk of transmitting the virus to her loved ones during the two-week deployment, she considered living away from her family in a nearby home owned by her father, but decided against that and to “take it day by day.” Following her hospital shifts, Dr. Jobbins changed into a fresh set of clothes before leaving the hospital. Once she arrived home, she showered to reduce the risk of possibly becoming a vector to her family.
She had to tell her kids: “You can’t kiss me right now.”
“As much as it’s hard for them to understand, we had a conversation [in which I explained] ‘This is a virus. It will go away eventually, but it’s a virus we’re fighting.’ It’s interesting to watch a 3-year-old try to process that and take his play samurai sword or Marvel toys and decide he’s going to run around the neighborhood and try to kill the virus.”
At the High Street Health Center, Dr. Jobbins and her colleagues have transitioned to conducting most patient encounters via telephone or video appointments. “We have tried to maintain as much continuity for our patients to address their chronic medical needs through these visits, such as hypertension management and diabetes care,” she said. “We have begun a rigorous screening process to triage and treat patients suspicious for COVID-19 through telehealth in hopes of keeping them safe and in their own homes. We also continue to see patients for nonrespiratory urgent care needs in person once they have screened negative for COVID-19.”
“In terms of the inpatient setting, we’ve noticed that a lot of people are choosing not to go to the hospital now, unless they’re extremely ill,” Dr. Jobbins noted. “We’re going to need to find a balance with when do people truly need to go to the hospital and when do they not? What can we manage as an outpatient versus having someone go to the emergency department? That’s really the role of the primary care physician. We need to help people understand, ‘You don’t need to go to the ED for everything, but here are the things you really need to go for.’ ”
“It will be interesting to see what health care looks like in 6 months or a year. I’m excited to see where we land,” Dr. Jobbins added.