What was hardest about this experience for you?
Dr. Dunbar: For me, one of the hardest aspects of dealing with COVID-19 was the unknown. In every aspect of professional life and clinical care, there were unanswered questions. What’s the best way to care for these patients? What prognoses can we give their loved ones? How can I help when it seems like there’s so little I can offer? Will we run out of PPE? As doctors, what behaviors most endanger our friends and family when we go home after work? When will things start to get better?
Dr. Hodo: For me, the week or two before being notified of the deployment was the worst and hardest time. The uncertainty about if I would be called or no, and to do what? And where? I was trying to read everything there was on management, what little was known about treatment, and so on. Once I received notification of a start date, that allowed me to focus on very clear endpoints and knowledge items (for example, reviewing ACLS algorithms) and to do things I knew would help me settle and be more effective (like shadowing).
Dr. Fischer: It was a lot of new. Not only were we taking care of a population that we hadn’t cared for since medical school (adults), but we were facing a disease process that was also new to everyone. We were learning on our feet, while at the same time providing guidance to our house staff.
What have you learned about yourself that you did not know before?
Dr. Dunbar: I was surprised to learn how much I liked caring for adult patients. The fear I felt immediately before they arrived dissipated fairly quickly after they arrived. The opportunity to address their chronic conditions while supporting them in an acute illness took me back to many of the fundamentals of medicine that I hadn’t thought much about since medical school. I liked that they could speak up to tell us how they were feeling, both physically and emotionally, so that we could address their needs and allow them to participate in their own care. Some of my favorite patients kept detailed histories of their own C-reactive protein values and oxygen levels to show they were active participants in their own recovery.
I was worried that these adult patients would be offended or scared to learn that they were being cared for by pediatricians, but at no point did anyone ask me why they were not assigned to an adult hospitalist. They saw us only as doctors and nurses, and they were grateful for our care. One 65-year-old U.S. Army veteran told me that his nurse had told him to take a shower and make his bed. “She treated me just like a 5-year-old kid. And I loved it!” he said.
Dr. Hodo: I don’t know that I was totally unaware of these things, but I will say that I had partially forgotten them: I really like adult medicine, and I love geriatrics. I like high-energy and high-stress situations … at least occasionally! I feel very comfortable discussing end-of-life decisions and death. I cope with personal stress by helping and supporting others – patients, team members, colleagues, neighbors. I risk not taking enough time for myself and have to remind myself to do so.