Cambridge, Mass. (January 22) – In the continuation of our series "MIT Engineers on the Covid-19 Frontline," we have an update from Dr. Stephanie Brenman '09, a former three-sport student-athlete, who is an emergency medicine physician in three hospitals in the greater Los Angeles area. In her own words, she shares how the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted her professional and personal life.
Things are crazy right now in Los Angeles. Lots of sick Covid patients, hospitals are completely full, so we have to start to plan for potentially rationing care. One of my hospitals recently got down to only two ventilators (it's back up a little bit now but still in the single digits) and we are intermittently out of other adjuncts that can stave off intubation, such as high-flow nasal cannula and BiPAP.
In order to free up space, we're sending patients home who we would ordinarily admit. We are adding more tent space because the emergency departments are so backed up which means we're seeing patients in non-clinical areas, such as the lobby. Even with the added tent space, we often are unable to staff them due to nursing shortages.
One of my hospitals has our emergency department group of doctors staffing a "code blue" shift. We run around the entire hospital to run codes and manage airways and other critical procedures to help offload the ICU doctors who are overwhelmed with over 100 percent capacity. They have just asked us if we can staff a second code blue shift to add more coverage because it is needed so badly.
We have converted our post op/PACU area into an ICU. We are keeping admitted patients on the floor who probably should be in the ICU, but there is no room. We are trying to avoid intubation at all costs for Covid patients because once they are intubated, they tend to do very poorly and are on a ventilator for weeks. Basically, I imagine this is what New York City felt like last March/April.
Really, the glimmer of hope right now is the vaccine. We were all very excited when we learned the vaccine would be available, and I was ecstatic when I got my appointment scheduled that first week. I've received both doses, and despite experiencing some side effects after each shot, I felt better within a few days. I cannot wait for vaccines to be rolled out to the public and I hope things start to move faster with distribution. I'm also hoping that now that the holidays are over and things are so bad in the hospital, people will be staying home more. It's definitely going to be a long month though.
Regarding mental health, most of the hospitals I work at have sent out information about free and confidential mental health hotlines or have made counselors available. I've been connecting with friends and colleagues quite a bit. I've been going on a lot of hikes, doing a lot of Peloton workouts, and trying to relax in the sun on our back patio as much as possible when not working.