Voices From the Front Lines: Richard Chow, DO, Emergency Medicine, Lehigh Valley Hospital (LVH)–Cedar Crest
BY TED WILLIAMS
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has affected every aspect of our lives, none more so than those working on the front lines of this crisis – our health care heroes. Voices From the Front Lines is a series of interviews with Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN) health care providers who are working to care for patients who are ill with COVID-19, as well as those who are dedicated to helping prevent the spread of this virus.
Richard Chow, DO, has performed emergency medicine duties at Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN) for three years. He earned his medical degree at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine and completed his residency at LVHN. Initially, he thought his future would be somewhere in a career in the arts or the theater. But along the way he discovered a strong interest in piecing together how things can go wrong within the body and understanding the means to fix them. He knew he belonged in medicine.
What is every day like during the COVID-19 crisis?
Every workday is unpredictable. You can have a moment of calm punctuated by a barrage of critically ill patients. The resources and efforts that are required to care for a single critical patient is immense much less several patients all at once. But that has always been par for the course for life in the emergency room (ER). The biggest difference from pre-COVID times has been the new policies/procedures set in place to further protect patients and those caring for them. But regardless of how daunting the task before them, my colleagues in the ER have and always will rise to any challenge.
How has this experience changed you, professionally or personally?
One of the means of mitigating transmission of this virus has been to minimize the number of persons who come in contact with a patient. Unfortunately, this has meant a limitation in the number of family members that can be with a patient at a time when they are most needed. It is heartbreaking to have to notify family members of this. However, on the brighter side, we do live in a time when technology affords us the means to soften this blow, such as the use of iPads for remote interactions. While adhering to policies meant to protect all of us, we should never forget that it is vitally important to treat a patient’s spirit as we do their body.
What’s inspired you? What is a defining moment during this?
We had a patient who needed to be intubated shortly after arrival. The nurse caring for the patient took the time to hold the patient’s hand with her own gloved hand as we prepared the process of doing so. While no words were exchanged, I felt this to be a means of communicating the fact that the patient was not alone, that there was a dedicated team whose ultimate goal was ensuring only the best care possible would be provided during such a terrifying time. Afterward, the nurse spent a great deal of time with the patient’s family to make sure she answered any questions and concerns not previously addressed. To know that I work with a team that is able to complement my abilities to care allows me to always be at my best.
What have you learned about yourself or your team?
During my rotation in the intensive care unit (ICU) as a resident, I worked with an intensivist who always said that smooth seas don’t make for skillful sailors. I have always found this adage to be true in many aspects of life. But I will add that successfully navigating such stormy seas is much more likely when you have a team of individuals working together as opposed to being alone. We often forget that the ER is more than just the physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners and nurses. Without medical technicians, administrative partners, respiratory therapists and maintenance staff, the ability to care for patients to the degree we are able would come to a grinding halt. This pandemic has allowed me to further appreciate the dedication and courage of these individuals. Another thing I have learned is the importance of reaching out to fellow colleagues so they know that just as the patient is never alone, neither are they. The ER tends to be a close-knit group, and when one falters there is always a group quick to provide whatever support is necessary. The network has been gracious in providing multiple means in which colleagues with concerns or ideas can have them addressed in a timely manner.
What are your rituals to keep you and your family safe?
I shower prior to going to work and then again after coming back home. The scrubs worn during work go directly into the washer after coming home. After a while, such a routine becomes second nature. We should always remain vigilant in doing what we can to keep ourselves, family, colleagues and the community safe.
What words of advice or encouragement do you have for health care employees or the community?
To my colleagues: I am truly privileged to work with a group of individuals who day in and out work seamlessly for the betterment of those they care for and for each other. To say I am lucky is an understatement. I suspect there is still some ways to go on the challenging road of this pandemic. I can think of no better group to travel with in the days ahead.
To the community: I am heartened by the outpouring of love. The endless demonstrations of support (thoughtful cards, food, medical supplies) make each day at work a little less stressful. I am sure that I am not alone in the sentiment that no words could truly express our appreciation for all the community has done.