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Providing Compassionate Care during COVID-19

In May of 2020, with hospitalizations due to COVID-19 remaining at a high level, Johns Hopkins medical leadership asked for faculty volunteers to redeploy to the COVID ICU to assist their intensivist colleagues. While it sounded daunting to work in a new role in a biocontainment unit, my prior military service had required me to practice in diverse settings and outside of my immediate comfort zone.  I was reminded of a prior short notice deployment to serve on a Forward Surgical Team in Afghanistan, except this time there wouldn’t be the added challenges of an emotional goodbye with my family or the threat of incoming rockets on the base. I signed up.

My job during the 24-day rotation, which included both day and night shifts, was to do basic doctoring. I examined my assigned patients, reviewed their laboratory data, checked their fluid input and output, and wrote orders under the supervision of the intensivists. I tried to express empathy to the patients through my respirator hood and to their family members over the phone. I experienced sadness when a patient died and joy when another improved and was successfully weaned from the ventilator.

The COVID ICU team delivered exceptional compassionate care for seriously ill patients that were stricken with this new infectious disease.  The courage and dedication displayed by all the professional staff, from doctors and nurses to technicians and environmental services specialists, was inspiring. I was proud to be part of that group.

–Richard Schaefer, MD, FAAOS