From the Frontline of the COVID-19 Pandemic

A Message to Future Colleagues from Dr. Brandon Godbout

In a message to Pace University - Lenox Hill Hospital Physician Assistant students, Dr. Brandon J. Godbout, medical director of the Program, reflected on his experience on the front line of the COVID-19 pandemic at Lenox Hill. In his message to “future colleagues,” Dr. Godbout calls for students to become change makers in the post-COVID-19 healthcare system recovery.

Future colleagues,

I wanted to take an important moment to share with you a brief reflection on the clinical experiences of the stabilizing SARS-CoV-2 pandemic at Lenox Hill Hospital, your esteemed program’s primary teaching hospital.  Despite the appropriate decision to prioritize your safety over unique pandemic experience and continued clinical education, you should never feel more proud to be a part of the Pace University - Lenox Hill Hospital family; moreover, you should never feel more proud to be joining a healthcare profession that continues to prove keystone-value to the modern arches of our public’s healthcare system and wellbeing.  I sincerely hope, more than ever, you are as excited as I am to have been called, by choice and with privilege, to better the health and lives of our patients and communities.

And so where do I begin!?  Perhaps I can describe index case number one that in disbelief presented to our emergency department on March 8, followed shortly thereafter by a tidal wave of 17 times more cases per day in a week and 70 times more cases per day in less than a month.  Perhaps I can describe the expression of fear carried on the faces of the many ultra-brave healthcare professionals on our team who questioned: “Will I become infected caring for these patients? Will I bring this virus home to my family?  Will I succeed or will I succumb?” Perhaps I can tell you how quickly the same introspective reasoning morphed into harmonious crises resource management and resulted in fearless death defiance and life support for our rapidly arriving patients. Perhaps I can describe how many patients presented with hypoxemic respiratory failure tolerating room air pulse oximeter readings lower than I have ever seen an “alive” patient maintain – less than 50%.  Perhaps I should describe the subtle appearance of a chest x-ray with faint bilateral opacifications, at times immediately followed by a non-contrast chest CT scan demonstrating an angry and inhumane appearance of “extensive, diffuse, bilateral ground glass opacifications, consider COVID-19.” Perhaps I can provide a prelude to new definitions of fever and infectious disease screening, as many acutely ill patients with high viral loads presented with oral temperatures between 99.0 and 100.4 F and variable presence of “flu-like symptoms.” Perhaps I can break the news that surgical masks are here to stay in any undifferentiated acute care setting.  Perhaps I can describe the nimble resilience of our hospital leadership who reinvented hospital operations on a dime, opened new units, built new walls, and built more walls on a seemingly daily basis in order to accommodate the unprecedented surge of infectious, critically ill patients. It should be of no surprise that we cared for more than 1,500 SARS-CoV-2 patients and had some of the best outcomes in the world!

Moving forward there are many healthcare challenges yet to overcome, essential system changes to be made, and innumerous lessons to be learned.  Your time to be “difference-makers” has arrived.  Our healthcare system recovery is in many ways more challenging than the surge, especially in consideration of a potential second wave.  The landscape resembles one struck by a hurricane, and we have been called to pick up the pieces and rebuild the foundations; foundations of homes that heal the many patients fearfully sidelined with uncontrolled acute and chronic medical conditions ready to emerge.  The potential of possessing medical knowledge and competence is more powerful than you will ever fully understand – look no further than the hundreds of thousands who clapped their hands together at 7p.m. each night, or the thousands of peaceful protestors who interrupted their mission to chant “thank you, thank you” as they passed down Lexington Avenue between 77th and 76th streets.  With great power, comes greater responsibility.  My call to action today is to remain eager yet diligent in your healthcare experiences, reinforce the great pride in your healthcare vocation every single day, and selflessly carry the torch to brightly light the future directions of our new, post-COVID-19, healthcare system.