Report from the front lines: fighting COVID-19 at YNHH
“Last January, it was all hypothetical,” remembers Nate Wood, MD, hospital resident. He was midway through his internship in internal medicine at YNHH.
“My colleagues and I were hearing about the virus in China and wondering — what if it came here? Would we still go to work, would we quarantine? But as March came closer, we began to realize it wasn’t a matter of if, but when.”
The ICU was eerily quiet when news of the pandemic first hit. People were scared of the virus, so they stayed away from the hospital. While Nate and the ICU staff waited, they pored over Twitter and read voraciously, trying to learn as much as they could from caregivers in Seattle and Italy, who were already in the thick of it.
For Nate and his colleagues — interns and experienced physicians alike — there was so much that wasn’t known. Most of them had never dealt with a pandemic virus before. How contagious was it? How deadly? Which conditions might combine with it to make it even worse? There were no answers.
The first COVID-19 patient was admitted on March 13 and everything changed after that. “I was definitely scared at the beginning,” says Nate. “I knew I might get it — I knew this could be life-threatening. But if you’re able to help a lot of patients along the way, then it’s worth it.”
Figuring it out on the job: treating patients with medicine and compassion
Too often, however, the only help or comfort he could provide was neither medical nor curative.
Nate recalls a heartbreaking example. A 90-year-old COVID patient was brought into the ICU. It was clear that over the next few days, she’d become even more short of breath. She would need to be put on a respirator if she was to have a chance of surviving.
But she didn’t want to be on a respirator. “There was nothing we could do medically except give her oxygen and wait,” Nate says. “As a doctor, the best I could do was spend time with her, because she couldn’t see her family except via Zoom. We’d look at photos of her family and pets together. We brought in a priest. I sang hymns at her bedside.”
Medical school certainly didn’t prepare Nate for this kind of care — or this kind of sadness. But with a disease like COVID-19, for which there are so few effective treatments, Nate feels the things he can do outside of medicine to provide caring and compassion are critically important. Treating COVID patients has taught him a lot about that.
Nate hopes that the worst will soon be behind us. We’ve learned a lot since the beginning about how to care for COVID-19 patients. And readily available vaccines appear to be close.
“Get fresh air, stay grounded, spread love, receive love —that’s what you have to do,” he says. “We’ll make it through.”