An experience that I will always remember from this deployment was the night one of our own emergency department staff came in as a patient. The day had been very typical, with plenty presenting for COVID-19-related symptoms or mainly minor complaints. We were all able to relax and enjoy each other’s company while I continued to interrogate the nurses about their trick to making a perfect Navajo taco. I sat there wondering when we would get our sick patient that day, as we had seemed to reach the point of averaging at least one COVID-19-infected patient per day who was critically ill enough to require intubation and transport.
Explore This IssueACEP Now: Vol 39 – No 08 – August 2020
It wasn’t soon after that we were notified there was a critical patient being brought back with hypoxia and tachypnea and concern for COVID-19. The next thing we noticed was this was not one of our typical patients but one of our own emergency department teammates. Quiet and concern swept over the rest of the department. The teammate was brought back and immediately evaluated. It didn’t take long for the team in the emergency department to recognize the same signs they had seen in so many critically ill COVID patients before. I could see on their faces that they knew intubation and air transport were in the near future. One of the regular physicians at the site volunteered to be the one to primarily care for the patient and intubate them. The procedure went well, and the team member was transported without complication to a facility with a higher level of care.
Typically, after these procedures everyone is high-fiving and moving on to the next patient, feeling like heroes. Today was not the same. The department team had been severely shaken not just with worry that it could have been any one of them getting intubated and flown out but that it was one of their team and family they had just treated. I saw tears, I saw silence, I saw encouragement, and I saw comforting. This was not the typical COVID patient stabilization we had done countless times every day—this was different.
Emergency department staff witnessing their own teammates being brought in for an emergency is, thankfully, not a common occurrence. COVID-19 has been a unique and deadly virus and has taken many lives all over the world. Medical providers have not been immune from this. I saw how hard this impacted the emergency department staff, and I will never forget what it means to take care of a sick team member and not know what the outcome may be.
A month after I returned home, one of the EM docs from Indian Health Services contacted me with news that their colleague died after a month on the ventilator fighting COVID in the intensive care unit. During the funeral, the entire hospital staff lined the highway to honor their teammate and show how much love they had for them. Even after this tragedy, everyone working at the Kayenta Health Center continues to fight with even greater resolve and determination against the COVID pandemic in their community.