COVID-19 has upended the lives of medical personnel, but it has also brought them closer together, Dr. Antoine Leflore, associate medical director of emergency services at Northeast Georgia Medical Center, said.
“There’s no textbook for this. There’s no playbook for this,” Leflore told The Times on Monday, April 6.
At home, he leaves his work items in the garage and wears a mask. At work, he and his colleagues face extra stress and new routines.
Medical staff treat patients while covered in full protective gear to prevent transmission of the virus. It is an extra step Leflore said has changed the routines of emergency personnel.
“As an emergency medicine physician, it is always my instinct to just act upon whatever is wrong with a patient. … What I’ve found is that I’ve had to retrain my muscle memory in caring for things like cardiac arrest,” Leflore said. “For example, someone is in cardiac arrest, now I have to pause and put on my PPE, or personal protective equipment, even if it means that the patient remains unresponsive or in distress.”
The pandemic has come with a lot of unknowns, Leflore said, and “information literally is changing hour-by-hour related to how we manage COVID-19.”
Every patient who comes to the emergency department is treated as a “potential person under investigation,” Leflore said, because people carrying the virus may not be showing the typical symptoms, or any signs of the illness.
“If someone presents with fever, cough, shortness of breath or flu-like illness, we immediately think, this is COVID-19. But now, we have so many cases that are presenting to the emergency department that are being found to be positive for COVID-19,” Leflore said. “... We even have some trauma patients that are testing positive for COVID-19 when they have shown up for non-COVID-related issues, but then later found to have for example, a chest radiograph with abnormalities consistent with COVID-19.”
Leflore said the hospital’s triage team screens patients for symptoms, then a physician examines the patient. Patients who come in for non-COVID issues may show some abnormalities that lead medical staff to order a test.
Leflore, who works the night shift at the Gainesville hospital, said patient volumes fluctuate, but the emergency department has been seeing more serious patient cases as those with milder illnesses are told to seek telehealth or non-emergency treatment options.
His shifts include consulting with patients’ family members over the phone, a change as the hospital only allows one visitor per patient in emergency department waiting rooms. He also checks in with staff about both medical updates and their personal well-being. At the end of his shift, he sanitizes all his equipment such as his stethoscope and lunch bag and changes his scrubs. If he does not have another meeting, he goes home, leaves his belongings in the garage, showers and spends time with family and his two young children.
Gainesville hospital staff are given the option to shower at Frances Meadows Aquatic Center before going home. Staff at NGMC Barrow and NGMC Lumpkin have on-site showers to use, and Northeast Georgia Health System spokesman Sean Couch said the system is working on an option for NGMC Braselton staff.
Leflore’s wife also works in health care as a psychiatry physician assistant. He said she is limiting patient contact and working remotely, and the family wears masks at home and is isolating from others. They have identified a room in the home where someone could isolate from the rest of the family if needed.
He said the staff has come together and finds happy moments during the stress, whether that is bonding over a funny video or trying to understand each others’ muffled speech through N95 respirators.
“I work with some amazing people, even though this is a stressful time with emotions ranging from anxiety and fear to even calmness and enthusiasm to conquer what’s next,” he said.