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Ashley Rowe: What I learned from my conversation with two Emergency Department doctors

Posted at 2:51 PM, Apr 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-22 18:44:11-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Emergency Department workers are trained to be ready and prepared for the most unexpected scenarios.

So when you hear the Associate Director of Emergency Medicine at Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital call COVID-19 "scary," you can't help but perk up and listen carefully to what he has to say.

"On the back burner of everybody's mind is, am I going to be next? Could I get [the virus]?," Dr. Alex Ljungberg said in a Zoom call with me and his colleague Dr. Joshua Lynch, Director of Emergency Medicine at DeGraff Memorial Hospital.

Dr. Ljungberg was one of the healthcare workers who contracted a mild case of the virus in late March. The timing was terrible - it happened just as he, Dr. Lynch and their colleagues were preparing for an influx of patients to arrive in hospitals across Western New York. There were still so many unknowns about COVID-19 and the protocols to treat it.

"Starting to prepare for something that changed on a daily basis, even from the little information we had from China, it was very challenging," said Dr. Lynch.

Dr. Lynch says in the early days, they were suspicious of their patients - an uncommon feeling for physicians who, as mentioned, are trained to deal with anything and everything.

Now, the pair feel like they have a much firmer grip on how to handle COVID-19 patients. Dr. Ljungberg might be immune to the virus because of his early contraction, but that's still unknown. They say they have the adequate PPE, and a good sense of the different procedures and medications to treat the virus, in addition to the coveted but risky ventilator.

But while they await the peak infection rate in Western New York, they have had time to observe some crucial consequences to the response effort - locally and statewide.

Dr. Lynch says with the suspension of elective procedures, an extraordinary number of people with serious non-coronavirus health symptoms are staying home from the hospital, who normally would have gone there to get checked out.

"What we're seeing now is patients may sit home with chest pain for two days, and come when it's not better. At that point, the heart attack may have taken place, or other diseases that could have started up, which we're used to seeing earlier, may have had time to progress a bit," Dr. Lynch said.

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Tuesday plans to relax the restrictions on elective procedures at some hospitals, but details on how that will be rolled out are still murky.

Another takeaway from our conversation is about the controversy over whether to re-open the economy. While not wanting to wade into politics, both doctors made it abundantly clear where they stand on the issue:

"I think social distancing is the best weapon we have as a society as a whole to combat the disease at this point," said Dr. Ljungberg. He encourages the community to keep social distancing in place until the nation gets a better grip on the virus.

Dr. Lynch acknowledges how tempting it might be to re-open the economy, but warns of the delayed consequence of that.

"You won't know the consequences [of re-opening] until like a week or two later," said Dr. Lynch.

And if there is one final takeaway from my Zoom call with these essential healthcare workers, it's that the outpouring of community support is being received with immense gratitude. Both doctors went out of their way to talk about it and express how much every meal, every sidewalk chalking, and every parade of people cheering has meant to them.