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COVID-19: A Year of Reflection, Part 2

  • Category: COVID-19
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COVID-19: A Year of Reflection, Part 2

In this second article of our two-part series, Dr. Mario Cole, pulmonary disease and critical care specialist at Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System (SVMHS), continues the conversation about the pandemic’s impact on healthcare workers and community members.

To listen to an in-depth conversation on this topic with Dr. Mario Cole, pulmonary disease and critical care specialist at Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System, click here.

A “Heads Up” from the East Coast

SVMHS had the advantage of learning from east coast hospitals, where COVID-19 hit the hardest first. One thing that became clear was how critical personal protective equipment (PPE) would be—as well as proper donning of PPE.

Some physicians and other healthcare took extreme measures, even living away from their families for a time.

“I remember reading about one doctor in particular who bought an RV and parked it in front of his house because she didn't want to go into the home after taking care of patients in the ER. Other doctors would completely shower somewhere else before going home,” states Dr. Cole. “But, the majority of physicians wearing PPE didn't do that. Everyone really did what they felt comfortable with. I was trained years ago how to put on PPE and how to take it off. So, I was comfortable with the standard routine.”

The Unpredictability of COVID-19

The learning continued as the virus made its way throughout Monterey County. One of the biggest lessons was that COVID-19 does not behave uniformly. Every patient had to be assessed and treated unique to their case.

“Each patient was very individualized in terms of how we had to care for them; how we managed the ventilator, how often we had to prone them, and when we could supinate them. That's something we actually had to learn,” notes Dr. Cole.

Healthcare staff also had to adapt to national medication shortages; for example, morphine. “We would get a notification from the pharmacy that it couldn't be ordered,” adds Dr. Cole. “As physicians, we were basically learning how to use different tools. I mean, we had tools, but they were different. There's always some nuance we had to learn.”

Bringing Clarity to Patient and Family Communications

Physicians and nurses always serve as the bridge of communication for patients and family members. COVID-19 made this more difficult, because there was so much misinformation circulating. Dr. Cole and his colleagues had to spend time “re-educating” family members—or at the very least correcting and clarifying information they had gathered from various sources.

“This was something new. You know, I've been a critical care physician and in medicine almost 20 years. Prior to COVID, I would say, ‘Your grandmother has pneumonia. We're going to give antibiotics, and this is what I expect; what we foresee to happen.’ That's how the conversations went,” explains Dr. Cole. “With this situation, we were combating a lot of misinformation. Folks were looking things up on the internet or talking to somebody at the grocery store. They’d say, ‘Well, doctor, have you considered trying this medication? Or how about trying this?’ That was a challenge. It certainly was a challenge.”

Vaccination for All: A Grassroots Movement

The majority of healthcare workers were thrilled when the vaccines were available. Yet, not everyone in the community is on board with getting vaccinated. Fear, confusion, and misinformation is clouding the vaccine’s benefits. Dr. Cole believes overcoming the hesitation will require a “grassroots” movement.

“Believe me, when I'm walking through the neighborhood, walking my dog, and people know who I am, I get stopped to talk about the vaccination. I have these conversations almost daily,” he shares. “For some, I think they’ll have to know somebody who was vaccinated and see how they're doing. Certainly, the more we see celebrities and other people out in the public eye getting vaccinated and doing well, I think the better it will be. But, there's always going to be someone who's going to refuse and that may put other people at risk.”

Despite It All, Silver Linings Do Exist

Despite the death and devastation COVID-19 has caused, Dr. Cole believes in silver linings. The pandemic has created an awareness and even a responsibility for our own health and the health of others.

“We took a trip to Japan a few years ago. Riding the trains, I was amazed that I didn't really hear anybody coughing or sneezing. Occasionally, you would see someone in a surgical mask and I would ask my wife, ‘Why are they in a surgical mask?’ And she would say, ‘Well, that’s somebody who's wearing a mask to protect everyone else.’ Maybe that's something that could be adopted here. If you understand you're sick and potentially infectious, maybe you wear a mask or maybe you stay home. I think we've all become more aware of our responsibility to each other and to protect ourselves.”

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