For those of you who were operating under the misconception that I am a professional athlete, or for those of you that know me to be a bum that spends a lot of time exercising, I should clarify that I do have a job. I am a board certified emergency physician. I have been working emergency rooms for 30 years in Pennsylvania, Alaska, Massachusetts, Washington, California and Oregon. Emergency medicine has been a good job for me. The irregular, problem based nature of the practice seems to fit with my ADHD and the occasional opportunity to perform life-saving procedures provides the doses of adrenaline that my system needs to keep going. The emergency room is the most democratic part of American healthcare, we treat patients according to the severity of their problem, not their ability to pay for it. And while emergency medicine has been good for me, it has also allowed me to give a little back to the society that nurtured and educated me. Additionally, emergency medicine has given me the opportunity to provide medical care as a volunteer all over the globe. In 2011, I volunteered as a race doctor on the Gobi March, and the itch was introduced that gradually became my plan to run the Atacama Crossing.
Volunteers at the Atacama race in 2015. Most of the medical team is stage right. I’ve been on the medical team at 6 races now. I’m scheduled to work Gobi Mongolia 2020, in June.
(Thankfulness note: I give thanks for having a job in these hard times.)
After my lymphoma treatment in 2014, in an effort to improve my chances of remission, we moved from Seattle to Central Oregon, and I went from working at a high volume, high acuity (huge stress) big city emergency room to lower volume, lower acuity work in small towns. Of course, crazy things can happen in small towns too, so when you least expect it, an emergency room in the middle of nowhere can suddenly fill with very sick or injured people. And now I work part time. 88 hours a month. Which, as you may have noticed, allows me more free time to train than your average human.
I went back to work this week. After 2 weeks of travel and 2 weeks of quarantine, it was a little bit of a shock to the system. Central Oregon is currently not one of America’s COVID19 hotspots. We have about 40 people in the area who have tested positive and roughly 10 people who have been hospitalized. The numbers are gradually increasing, but not doubling every day. Our hospitals have cancelled all elective surgeries and put up tents and made beds available for a potential onslaught of sick patients. But at the moment, mercifully, the beds remain empty and the emergency rooms are calmer than usual. Still, I will admit that I was nervous stepping back into the department this week. I always have a little anxiety when I come to work. You always wonder what’s waiting behind door number 2. But this is just a little crazier than usual. I am confident in the skills I have to take care of a person sick with the virus. But multiple people? And in the back of my head: can I keep myself safe from the virus? I have practiced putting on (and, more importantly, taking off) the equipment for SARS and Ebola. I can do this safely. But now we are being told we don’t have very much of this equipment. And we will be reusing masks and shields that we’ve been taught to throw away. Putting a potentially contaminated mask back on is a skill that no one has ever taught me, and yet this may be the most important skill of the coming weeks.
I’ve been rummaging through my garage for protective gear, in case the stores at the hospital run out before the resupply. Don’t be too freaked out if you see your doctor coming towards you in a chainsaw helmet and a painter's respirator. I'll leave the chainsaw at home.
Or maybe we can all just wrap ourselves in Bubble Wrap until this is over.
But before the bubble wrap. I’ve got a 2 hour run on the training schedule. It’s 36 (2C) degrees and sleeting out. Sounds like the perfect opportunity for social distancing. And it will help my anxiety as well.