Our Learning Curve

By: Dr. Anne Wagstaff

UAB Internal Medicine Resident

Image by Robina Weermeijer via Unsplash

It has been remarkable watching our healthcare system respond to the COVID crisis over that last few weeks. Initially, there was a lot of anxiety due to all of the uncertainties. Tests were scarce, and there was a cost associated with ordering tests since we’d have to use up personal protective equipment (PPE) while we waited days for the results.

Questions multiplied: Who should we test? Those with cough, fever, and shortness of breath? Or everyone with cough?

We quickly realized that COVID was presenting a number of ways and not always in the typical fashion. This only exacerbated the fears of being exposed as most anyone could be carrying the infection.

As we got our first few cases, there was a learning curve for all of us – doctors, nurses, and respiratory therapists alike. We learned how to don and doff PPE. We got fit tested for N95s (respiratory protective device with very close facial fit) and were told to guard them like treasure. We learned how to conserve our regular surgical masks and many of us brought home made ones.

I watched as nurses bravely went in and out of COVID patients’ rooms numerous times a day. They did it without complaint and out of a sense of duty, but you could tell they worried for their safety and the safety of their families when they returned home each day.

Slowly, we have gotten into a rhythm of caring for these patients. Testing that takes hours instead of days has become widely available. Nurses and respiratory therapists have gotten used to donning and doffing PPE and feel more comfortable entering rooms. The initial anxiety has improved as caring for COVID patients has become our new normal.

Still, there are challenges to come. We worry most that our hospitals will be overwhelmed, that we will run out of ventilators, and that we will run out of PPE and no longer be adequately protected. Healthcare workers are still contracting COVID, whether from community spread or from the hospital, so there is ambient fear of contagion that never quite goes away.

Overall, I have been amazed at the servant-hearted spirit among our healthcare workers and the desire to deliver excellent care for COVID patients. I’m grateful for our hospital, local, and state leadership as they work endlessly to plan for our future as the crisis continues. Despite the loss and the heartache of COVID, I feel hopeful as our community comes together and battles this epidemic together.

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