How Medical Training Prepared Me for COVID-19

“It was in early March when my non-orthopedic colleagues began to jokingly ask me how confident I felt about my internal medicine skills, and how much I could remember about ventilator settings.  Of course, it was only a very short time later when my hospital started looking for volunteers to be redeployed. 

My first task was in the ICU, where, thankfully, no one ever asked my input on how to manage a ventilator! The intensivists wanted to try prone ventilation and had a simple need:  a team to place patients into the prone position.  The job was physically demanding, sweaty, and perfect for orthopedic surgeons. Twice a day, we would meet up with the anesthesiologists and nurses, don our PPE, and get to work caring for some of the sickest patients.  On other days I went to the hospital floors instead, caring for the less acutely ill.  Our orthopedic hospital was converted to a COVID-unit, run by hospitalists with orthopedic surgeons and their PAs/NPs functioning as the medicine team.  While less physically exhausting, this work had its own rewards and challenges. I was with a 105-year-old man when he died and got to tell his daughter he passed peacefully in his sleep.  Others, I got to discharge home to their families. 

Many people have asked me how it’s possible to fill a role you’ve never been trained to do.  But I found that this is exactly what medical training prepares us for: how to show up, figure it out, and take care of patients. You don’t have to know all rules of the game to put on a uniform and get on the field with your team. Throughout my experience, I found it both reassuring and gratifying to see the usual hierarchy of medicine dissolved as we all tried our best to adapt to new roles.  No matter what happened, every day had a rewarding end.  Whenever possible, I liked to get outside and listen to New Yorkers’ nightly cheer for healthcare workers.  If you’ve never tried it, it’s a great way to end a day at work, with a city of 8 million people cheering you on.”

– Jody Litrenta, MD