“Different Than Anything in My Career”

Amabir Mattewal, M.D., Medical Director of the ICU, Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Medical Center, Describes His Life Treating Patients During COVID-19

Working in the ICU I thought I had seen everything. However, when COVID-19 hit Houston extremely hard in mid-June, it was nothing like anything I have experienced in my career.

We were fortunate by that time to have learned from the experiences in New York City, Italy and Spain – especially about the need to intubate patients early and place them on mechanical ventilation. The drug Remdesivir and convalescent plasma treatments – where plasma was taken from survivors and given to patients – seemed to be showing promise and we figured out other ways to treat patients before placing them on a ventilator. However, there were those days when a patient would ask “Am I going to get better?” and I couldn’t give them a solid answer because I truly did not know. That was extremely frustrating. As physicians, we have learned over the years that if someone has a terminal illness you know how to break the news to them, but with this virus, many days I simply was searching for answers and the right thing to tell my patients.

As time goes on, the virus has really worn me down. At one point, I was seeing 25 COVID-positive patients a day. I get tired of continuously changing gowns and other personal protective equipment (PPE) and for the first time in my career I am feeling a lot of fear. Not in my ability to care for patients, but for my own health and well-being as well as the safety of my family. This is the first time in my life that I thought I needed to make a will – and I did. There are times when I worry that I, too, will end up in the ICU and get sick and die. I want my family to be taken care of in case that happens. It’s a really scary time.

My family also feels it. My older son calls me every now and then and asks how I am doing. I can’t hug him and his brother when I got home and that is hard. I am not only physically drained some days, but also mentally.

While the virus has taken an emotional toll on me, I think nurses have been more affected than any of us. A lot of nurses in our hospital volunteered to work in the COVID unit in the beginning and many ended up feeling isolated because they couldn’t see their families and friends. They are with
patients all day and some of those patients do not make it. It affects you on a very personal level. We all know we have a job to do taking care of these patients, and that is exactly what we have been doing.

The number of patients we are seeing has significantly declined since the summer, but recently we have seen another spike, which is a bit worrisome. I would encourage the public to remain vigilant, especially with the holiday season upon us. Wear a mask when you are out and around other people. Practice social distancing and good hand hygiene, and if you are sick, stay home. Try to avoid large gatherings and use common sense.

Do I think we will ever see anything like this ever again? I certainly hope not, but as we all know, life is unpredictable, so you never know. If so, we will still be here to take care of you

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