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Medical Residency at a Dedicated COVID-19 Care Center

Posted on Wednesday, September 23rd, 2020 at 6:49 pm.

By Dr. Magdi Zordok, EVP Physician from Egypt

This story was originally published on ECFMG’s Journeys in Medicine Blog

Dr. Zordok after rounds (shown first from the left)

On March 17, 2020, Carney Hospital was designated as the nation’s first dedicated care center for Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). Our patient population would now be only individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 and required hospitalization, either from our emergency department, or from other hospitals within our network. My experience with COVID was, at that point, scarce and limited to discussions with my senior colleagues and the case reports from China and Italy.

A COVID testing tent was set up outside the hospital and news reporters lined up in the parking lot the next day. Soon enough, the patient count ramped up, which required modifications of our existing wards and intensive care unit (ICU). More beds were added after negative pressure rooms were installed in pre-existing and under-utilized units to double our bed capacity. With the new COVID-only designation, our institution had an influx of patients from all over the Boston area.

Dr. Zordok after rounds

Today, as the number of cases in the region plateaus, it’s time to reflect on the last couple of months which, to me and to a lot of my colleagues, were pivotal in shaping our careers and us as physicians.

When I heard the news of our hospital’s dedication to COVID I was overwhelmed with a myriad of emotions and mixed feelings. I was petrified for one, as we would be coming face to face with a new archenemy. I was not entirely sure how prepared I was, in terms of infectious diseases knowledge let alone COVID management. I worried about my wife, given my heightening risk of exposure, and in the back of my mind always had an evacuation plan to isolate myself the second I started showing symptoms. I did my best to keep a positive attitude to help keep me and my family strong. I knew that this was my time to serve and hold down the fort with my colleagues, and I felt a sense of honor to be entrusted with this mission.

Besides the increased exposure to new and novel medical information, COVID also revealed to us greater insight into the non-medical aspects of clinical practice. Virtual meetings by phone or video calls, became part of our daily routine to update patients’ families and loved ones who were not allowed to visit. With time, the families became acquainted to the medical team and, as the patients would get better, the calls would be very rewarding. Especially after a long day of work, they would bring about a great sense of joy, as they were filled with positive vibes and energy. Other calls were heart wrenching. Discussing goals of care or end-of-life decisions became daily conversations that, unfortunately, had to be done. I remember being part of final goodbye phone calls between patients and their families, or arranging and participating in virtual end-of-life prayers for patients. While it was an honor to be asked to be part of these important moments, they were painful to witness.

Right: Dr. Zordok After rounds pre-COVID-19 (shown center) | Left: Dr.Zordok’s class on orientation day (shown first row first from the left)

We also learned quickly that there is no way to predict who gets better and who does not. I vividly remember a 46-year-old gentleman with a medical history significant only for asthma whose health suddenly deteriorated and had to be transferred to the ICU for a month. Conversely, an 88-year-old woman with multiple comorbidities made a very significant recovery in less than a week. There was no playbook to go by. Everything was still under trial. The use of new ventilation techniques, as well as paralysis induction, were new treatment modalities which until that time I had only read about.

COVID also impacted my personal life. It stole many of life’s simple joys, like family get-togethers, a wedding plan, a graduation ceremony for my wife, and much more. It taught me that even a walk on the beach is a simple pleasure that should not be taken for granted. It gave me a better insight into the spiritual aspect of medicine and how there is more to patient care than just science. A smile, heartfelt wish, positive thoughts, or a prayer can go a long way.

Looking back now after several months, I won’t forget the feeling of going home and seeing the scars of the N95 mask on my face. I would say no matter how the pandemic changed me, or my life, I will forever be proud that I was on the frontline. This is a very humbling experience to everyone in the medical field. It teaches us all that no matter how much we know, there’s still more that we do not know. Now, more than ever, I feel close to my coworkers and would trust them with my life.

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About G. Kevin Saba

Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Private Sector Exchange

G. Kevin Saba

G. Kevin Saba serves as Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Private Sector Exchange at the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). In this capacity, he oversees the Exchange Visitor Program, which brings around 300,000 foreign citizens to the United States annually to teach, study, and build skills. He is the Director for the Policy and Program Support Division in ECA’s Office of Private Sector Exchange.

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