As Emory University Hospital's Division Director of General Anesthesiology, Gaurav Patel (Class of 2000) is highly skilled at something desperately needed by the hospital community: the ability to intubate.
"This virus lives in the respiratory tract. Because intubation is something anesthesiologists do routinely, our team is highly practiced at it," he says. "Though my general rotations would have me in the operating room, at this time, most of what we're doing is managing airways — very, very carefully."
Like most hospitals, Emory has stopped performing elective surgeries. Still, for their time-sensitive patients — such as those needing cancer-related procedures — Gaurav and his team are available. If they aren't required in the OR, they are covering the ICU or working with COVID patients who need respiratory assistance. When patients aren't getting enough oxygen, or they cannot breathe on their own, they need to be intubated.
These physicians work in teams of three. Two team members follow the highly specific protocols for dressing in the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) while the third monitors the process, looking for any area that may be exposed or not properly covered. Those two doctors enter the patient room, and, with careful precision, they clear the patient's airway, when they can, and insert the breathing tube all while minimizing aerosolizing lots of virus. Their hands are inside the mouths of COVID-19 patients; their faces are within inches of this deadly virus.
The third doctor stands watch outside the patient's room and acts as a runner for anything the two doctors inside may need. This reduces the time and the risk of infection for all. As they finish with one patient, they carefully remove the PPE in a prescribed order, again while being monitored by the third physician so as not to miss anything in the process.
"Our hands are double gloved. We hand sanitize with our first pair of gloves on and then remove them; we then remove the gown, hand sanitize again; remove our second pair of gloves; remove the mask and face shield and wash our hands. It's all very OCD, but it has to be," he says.
Gaurav is married with a precious two-year-old at home. The last thing he wants is to pass on anything that may make his wife, Neha, or his daughter, Nirali, ill. Though they talked about separating the family, Gaurav is hesitant for his wife to move in with her older parents and is unsure of how long this will last.
Instead, he takes extreme caution to leave all his work clothes in the garage, even changing shoes before he gets out of his car.
Gaurav offers some hope: "I wouldn't say things are getting better, but I do see a plateau that wasn't there before. I'm thankful to those who have committed to social distancing. Keep doing what you're doing."
He urges the Walker community: "This is everybody's fight. I know some of it feels a bit Draconian — like we might be making things worse economically — by staying home. But, in the end, we have nothing if we don't have our health, right? We must continue to do what is safest. All of us."