Heartbreaker & Surgeon: Frontline Diary I

Heartbreaker & Surgeon: Frontline Diary I

As you might imagine being based in Boston, we have many Heartbreakers who are on the front lines of the battle against COVID-19. I asked them to share their stories. Here's Angela's (surgeon): 

"It's been a hectic few weeks, and there's not been much self-reflection in between being sick, working a lot, helping my daughter make sense of this, and trying to avoid the tetany of anxiety. In short, the first week of March I had a COVID exposure and then got moderately sick the following week, so was tested and placed on quarantine for 13 days, which was the amount of time it took (!) for the test results to return negative. Returning to work after that felt like running into a burning building. For the past two weeks I've been back - caring for regular old patients and also COVID patients, and doing only emergency surgery (which we've still had a lot of) - all non-urgent / -emergent surgery has been postponed, due to primarily concerns about using up precious PPE but also to limit potential exposures of patients and staff and to keep the hospital as empty as possible. We are making a huge effort to keep patients at home who we would normally admit to the hospital, and this has meant lots of daily phone calls to check in and calling in antibiotics etc. We're not yet at capacity on the inpatient side - in fact there's an eerie calm in the hospital right now. Conversations with friends in NYC have shown us some version of what is coming, and it's not like anything any of us have seen before. I worked trauma surgery during the marathon bombing, and this is so very different. With the marathon bombing we knew within a matter of hours what the scope of the immediate threat was, and then most of the work was addressing the fallout. That was a scary week, but we never felt personally in danger's way. With this we know the worst is coming in the next couple of weeks, and we know we're already personally being exposed to the disease. It's been frustrating to see that the government reported numbers don't line up with what we're seeing. The battlefield analogies are maybe trite but feel pertinent. We've been given orders for what new roles we will fill (COVID ICU care for the surgeons) in the next stage of the surge plan - likely early next week. Everyone is scared - of getting sick, of getting our families sick, of abandoning our colleagues if we get sick, of not having the resources to give patients what they deserve, and I think worst of all of needing to care for our own friends and colleagues. I grew up hearing stories from my grandfather about WWII - last year at a family wedding my grandfather pulled a box of shells out of his pocket and explained that he had scooped them into his pocket upon landing at Normandy Beach. I asked him why saved them, and he said they made him feel grounded, and he felt like that might turn out to be an important time. I then asked him if he was scared, and he said of course he was but what else could you do but follow orders and do the right thing. The hospital chaplain has a prayer hanging on their door about courage that I've been revisiting. Part of it -- "Courage doesn't mean not feeling fear. It means feeling the fear, and taking a breath, and doing the next right thing anyway." So that has kind of become my mantra - acknowledge the fear, focus on the goal, and then do the right thing.

Regarding what people can do to help--

Most importantly, continue with the social distancing. We are understanding more that much of this disease may be transmitted through asymptomatic people. And despite the initial reports, we are seeing lots of young, healthy people get sick from this. Don't get complacent.

Second, don't be so afraid of the hospital that you suffer at home with a non-COVID problem - but also don't just show up in the ER if you can avoid it. Call your doctor, and lots of times we can figure out a way to take care of you and avoid the ER. We're seeing lots of non-COVID problems show up in worse shape than usual because people are so afraid of hospitals right now.

If people have upcoming doctors appointments, test results pending, calls in to doctors' offices, etc, please please answer your phone, make sure your voicemail is set up and not full, and make sure your phone accepts calls from blocked numbers. We are making a huge effort to keep providing care by telehealth. Many of us are calling from blocked numbers or numbers that people may not recognize, as lots of hospital staff are working off-site to keep several waves of people less exposed.

Finally, the beer fairy stories were fun, but I'm really looking forward to a visit from the toilet paper fairy. If anyone stockpiled TP and wants to help a doc out, that situation is nearing critical at my house and the stores are mostly closed / empty when I get out of work. 😬"

Angela reached out this week to add: "They’ve started playing the Rocky theme song or the Drake lyrics “It’s a marathon, not a sprint, but I still gotta win the race, yeah” over the loudspeaker whenever a COVID-19 patient is discharged from the hospital."

Angela, left, at Heartbreaker practice during less stressful times.

- DF