A pulmonary critical care expert on his hopes, pump-up music, and routine

We asked an incredible pulmonary critical care expert about how this pandemic has affected him and what he does to take care of himself.

By Lisa Muloma & Vibhu Krishna

photo by Fabian Miller via Unsplash

Dr. Humberto Choi is the Medical Director at the Respiratory Institute Smoking Cessation Program, an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of medicine, and a critical care pulmonologist in Cleveland, OH. He has been featured in numerous important publications, including the New York Times. Faces of the Frontline spoke with him about some of the more humanizing aspects of his experience:

Q: What has been the most repetitive/prevalent thought in your mind as a frontline worker?

A: I have talked to many colleagues and trainees who have expressed some degree of anxiety and a little of bit of fear of getting the infection. One thought I common that we all had is “we are ready for this!”; “we have been trained to handle this and we can do it! This is what we do!” Sometimes we just need to remind ourselves of that. Q: Lately, where have you found rest?

A: I continue to exercise daily even when I can`t leave my condo. But I`ve been finding rest in reading, house chores and cooking. I`ve been able to read a book that I have been trying to finish for months. My closets have never been this organized. And I found a new pleasure of having a home cooked meal every evening. Q: When (fingers crossed) this pandemic slows down, what is one of the first things you'll want to do (besides sleep)?

A: Like everyone, I want my life to be as normal as possible. I want to go outside without second guessing myself. Without fearing if someone is infected next to me. Without fearing of being profiled or attacked for being Asian. I want to live my life without having these thoughts. I enjoy triathlons and marathons too. I hope I can go back to training. Q: What's your pump-up song?

A: I have been listening to the Hamilton soundtrack. I like “My Shot” and “Dear Theodosia”. We have the “privilege” to be alive in a time with great challenges and sacrifices. It is up to us to seize the day and make the best of this “opportunity.”

How can I come out from this a stronger person? Are we willing to make sacrifices for a brighter future? What is going to be our legacy from this challenging experience?

Q: Tell us a short story about your experience on the frontlines.

A: I have a strong memory in one of the nights when we were receiving our first COVID19 patients in our ICU. It was a time that we were all trying to figure out how to manage everything. One policy that most hospitals have adopted is the non-visitation policy. I recall vividly how difficult and heartbreaking it was to talk to family members and explain that they could not see their family member who was dying. I recall my shaky voice under the N95 mask. I recall the distress in their faces and there was nothing I could say to comfort them. Eventually, when things slowed down in the end of shift we allow them to be at bedside and the patient passed away next to her loved ones. Those moments still haunt me. 

Faces of the Frontline thanks Dr. Choi for his bravery, resilience, and sense of humanism throughout this pandemic. His advocacy inspires many, and we are honored to feature him here.

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