By Salil Bhandari, MD
I thought I had taken care of patients with every emergency imaginable until we saw the surge of patients suspected or confirmed with COVID-19.
When I serve as the rapid treatment physician, my job for the next eight hours is to screen patients with any respiratory illness before they enter the larger Emergency Room, to keep potential COVID patients separate from other patients. We see them one at a time to determine if they need to be tested or hospitalized, or can safely recover at home. It’s not simple with COVID, as things are not always as they initially appear.
We change our personal protective gear more than 30 times a day to protect each patient and each other, and still wonder if we’ve been exposed. As I observe firsthand the suffering, fear and panic spreading across our region, I’m proud to play an important role in this battle to save lives. Given the many unknowns of this pandemic, I also worry for my own health and the health of my colleagues and family.
Fortunately, I work with dedicated healthcare providers, and like others around the country, having personal protective equipment – N95 masks, gowns, gloves, ventilators and blood supply – is top of mind. We have implemented measures to conserve these critical resources at a time when the entire country is in need. In addition, we’ve received tremendous support from the community through donations of supplies that will ensure we are able to continue to protect ourselves and our patients as this pandemic continues.
Many of us have adopted new routines to help reduce our chances of spreading the virus after our shifts such as sleeping in hotel rooms, changing our clothes and shoes before we enter our homes and like many across the country, wearing a mask even when in public.
My emergency medical team rises to this new challenge with selflessness, innovative thinking and an intense sense of duty. One of my colleagues created a novel telemedicine system in a week to support virtual care options for the dedicated COVID-19 Response Units even in the hospital. Another has been working with a fire department to create systems to help decrease exposure of our EMS rescuers.
We are all in this together and we will get through this together. The more we work in lock step, the more lives we will save — your family, your friends, my family, my friends.
How Can You Help?
First, stay at home unless absolutely necessary. It won’t be forever. Remember to wash your hands more often and more thoroughly than you ever have before.
Second, if you have to leave home we strongly recommend wearing a face covering. This will continue to help us slow the spread of the disease.
If you are feeling seriously ill due to any emergency or having difficulty breathing due to potential COVID exposure, come to the ER. Delays in addressing your health needs could have a long-term impact on your overall health. With our many safety measures in place, we are ready to care for you.
Lastly, please consider donating blood to the local blood bank. It’s safe, and you will have given a small part of yourself to save someone’s life. Also, if you’ve had COVID-19, please read on how you can help other patients battling the virus, here.
Salil Bhandari, MD
Emergency Medicine Physician
Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center
Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine
McGovern Medical School at UTHealth