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Guest Column

ER life during COVID-19

By Anita Wang, MD, FACEP, emergency room doctor who practices integrative medicine at her Wellness, Longevity, and Aesthetics private practice also

I won’t lie – working in the ER right now amidst the pandemic has been hard at times. Having been an ER doctor for over 30 years, I wanted to share my experience of what life looks like in the emergency room right now in the hospital where I work. For the past month I have been testing and treating COVID-19 patients, and what I see is a direct response to what everyone in the community is doing. To you, I am thankful for physical distancing and for keeping yourself healthy, so that we have enough resources to help others in need of medical attention.

Hospitals have gone to great measures to care for both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients. When patients go to the ER today at my hospital, a nurse triages patients at a tent set up near the entrance. Everyone who enters is screened for COVID-19 regardless of the purpose of their visit. Non-COVID-19 patients may go inside to the emergency room waiting area to be treated for their injuries/ailments. Sick patients stay at the tent to better understand their condition before determining if/where in the hospital they should go. Inside, COVID-19-only areas in the emergency department have enhanced airborne isolation rooms with negative pressure and HEPA filters to contain airborne contaminants. We are fortunate to be operating now at Surge Level Green (minimal) but are prepared to then take over other parts of the facility as the number of cases rises. 

The hospital must also protect patients by keeping their staff safe as well. Security is heightened and our temperature is taken each time we enter the  hospital. When swabbing or working with patients, I wear a surgical gown over my scrubs, surgical cap, N95 mask, face shield, and shoe covers at all times. These are all disposable items, as is my stethoscope, but we have needed to disinfect and reuse all of them to conserve resources. These PPEs (Personal Protective Equipment) are in short supply but our ER logistics manager made sure we were better supplied than most. Many of my peers also personally helped to get supplies for the department. Though still far from ideal, I am thankful to be far better off with protective gear than other hospitals.

ER life closeup

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Dr. Anita Wang

At home I still try to distance myself, wear an N95 mask when I cook and go out, and wash my hands frequently to protect my family. It is exhausting trying to keep protected. I miss the physical hugs from my boys. I try harder to still be social through my mask when out walking the dogs. These adjustments are uncomfortable, but I know it is worth it. I am seeing it first hand. I am so proud of our state of California for taking isolation so seriously because it shows in our caseload.

And so I now follow the same protective measures in my Wellness, Longevity, and Aesthetics practice as I do in the hospital. All my patients are screened for COVID-19 before seeing me in the office – otherwise I see them via virtual appointments. I’m confident in these protocols and would only offer my wellness and incontinence services to my patients with them in place. This actually can be the perfect time to focus on individual health, and it certainly benefits the community by being in the best health. 

What I recommend to individuals now: regardless of when businesses open back up, continue keeping yourself safe and healthy. Wash your hands frequently. Wear face coverings to avoid spreading your germs, whether it’s COVID-19, the flu, or something else. Communicate with your doctor if you feel unwell. We are noticing that patients are coming to the ER sicker than usual, possibly because they delayed going to the hospital. In the case of a recent patient who ruptured their appendix, waiting too long could’ve meant death. Though it may be less desirable to have to go to the emergency room now, hopefully, you can rest assured that your local hospitals and medical professionals are doing everything they can to protect you as much as possible. 

Pandemics come in waves, and in the past, some successive waves have been worse than the first. Thank you for all your efforts to slow the spread and for minding your health. Your individual health is our community’s collective health. Without it, nothing else really matters. 

Editor’s note: The information in this column expresses the experience and opinions of Dr. Anita Wang, MD, FACEP. Dr. Wang is an emergency medical doctor and practices integrative medicine at her Wellness, Longevity, and Aesthetics private practice at 255 Thalia St, Suite B, Laguna Beach. Visit her website for more information at https://anitawangmd.com or contact her office at (949) 734-0580.

 

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