My dad recently had a brain bleed after tripping and falling. We called 911, and he had brain surgery that night to drain the blood in his brain. The surgical team was excellent, and within hours he was better.
But what if there hadn’t been a bed for him?
What if he had had to wait for hours – or days – before getting surgery because all of the nurses were too busy taking care of patients on ventilators, sick from COVID-19?
And what if the critical care doctor who took care of him had been sick at home with COVID-19 – what if the doctor simply hadn’t been there?
These are the alarming issues that we’ll be facing if we run out of resources to handle the sick and if doctors and nurses on the front lines get sick themselves because they don’t have the Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) that they need. This situation isn’t just an emergency for COVID-19 patients – it’s a true emergency for all of us.
Already there have been reports of doctors and nurses getting sick and testing positive for COVID-19. They are asked to stay at home and get better, which usually takes 2-3 weeks. If other health care workers have been in contact with them, they are asked to stay at home as well for 2 weeks, even if they don’t have symptoms. This happened in Italy, where 20% of the health care workforce was not available to see patients. Not enough doctors. Not enough nurses.
So, what can we do to help them get masks, gloves, and other PPE that will keep them safe?
Two doctors in Atlanta think they have a solution and are estimating that 3-4 weeks of “shelter in place” will give them the time they need to get the PPE to the nation’s hospitals. Joanna Newton, MD, an oncologist at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and Emily Blum, MD, have worked with the Pediatric Technology Center at Georgia Institute of Technology and the Global Center for Medical Innovations, as well as government and industry partners, to develop a 3D printable design to literally make N-95 masks as well as face-shields (which allow for prolonged use of available masks).
Blum says, “Our health care system runs at near capacity at baseline; we are at a breaking point, but with collaboration of the brilliant minds across the country we can protect those on the front line. Time is the most important factor, and we have to slow the onslaught of COVID-19 cases on our health care system and that’s where the public can help.”
The hospitals need millions of masks and shields and are simply running out of them. There is a solution. If we give them time.
If not, our frontline workers, doctors and nurses will be exposed. These health care workers can infect other patients - like you and me, or if they need to be quaratined, that means fewer doctors and nurses to take care of you, me, and our families, when we are injured or sick, whether with COVID-19 or something else.
Just think about all the times you, your kids, your significant other, or your mom or dad have needed healthcare urgently. Was it a broken arm when your son was skateboarding? Was it a friend who went into labor early? Was it a grandparent who had chest pain?
We will all need our doctors and nurses. We need to give them more time to get the PPE they need and to make sure we don’t overwhelm the hospitals.
The next 3-4 weeks of “shelter in place” can give us a chance to protect our health care soldiers who are fighting in the frontlines – and ensure they are healthy and ready to take care of us when we need them.