RI emergency doctor gives inside look into working with COVID-19 patients

Emergency physician at Rhode Island and Miriam Hospitals, Dr. Elizabeth Goldberg, gives an inside look at what it’s like caring for COVID-19 patients in the emergency room.

“It’s been stressful, stressful for our staff, me personally,” Goldberg says. “The way we take care of our patients has fundamentally changed.”

Goldberg is used to delivering bad news but says the lack of contact necessary during this pandemic makes it extremely difficult.

“It’s hard to read what the patient is feeling,” Goldberg said. “All of our patients are wearing masks, we are wearing masks. There’s a distance that wasn’t there before.”

Recently, Goldberg lost her first patient to COVID-19 and says it weighs heavily on her.

“Now you talk to the patient and let them know they need oxygen and may need intensive care then you separately call their family members. It’s not always easy at 2 or 3 in the morning to get family members on the phone.”

Goldberg said she is doing what she loves which is serving her community, but a grim reality for herself and many is that they could get sick too.

“A lot of my colleagues have been drafting wills and talking more about what their wishes are,” Goldberg said. ” I’ve had that conversation with my husband as well. When I leave for work the kids hang on a little bit more.”

Due to the fact that doctors are working in unchartered territories, they are being forced to adapt every single day. For example, they are learning a technique called proning, turning patients from their back to their stomach, can help improve oxygen levels.

“We need to do it safely and make sure, for example, that the breathing tube is not separated from the ventilator when we do that.”

Goldberg says there are many efforts being made to ensure there is enough personal protective gear or P.P.E.

“We are being really smart about reusing our P.P.E., which we know is not ideal. We track the burn rate of how much P.P.E. we go through on a daily basis. There are teams responsible for sourcing the equipment and medications we need.”

Though many can’t see their loved ones, Goldberg wants people at home to know they are receiving the best care.

“I want to reassure families we are working incredibly hard. We are coming up with new solutions to help them communicate with their loved ones.”

Goldberg also said she’s never seen this outpouring of love and support in the medical field, and it’s helping many go to work each day.


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