ON THE FRONTLINES

NYC DOCTOR SHARES HER EXPERIENCE WITH COVID-19

During this stressful time with much uncertainty, we are learning to take precautions like we never had before. The real heroes have been the medical care professionals that are on the front line trying to manage and provide care to those in need. Taking the virus head on, I can’t even imagine how they deal with seeing so many people being inflicted with the Coronavirus.

My sister, Sheena Punnapuzha works as an Emergency Medicine doctor for Brooklyn Hospital Center, and as you can imagine it does make me anxious as I worry every time she steps into the ER. All I can do is hope for the best and wish this can all come to an end as soon as possible. However, I am incredibly proud of her and all those who show up and are dedicated to the mission of saving lives. Taking this time this time to be productive and inform our readers, I thought it would be helpful to share some insight from my sister. The Brooklyn Hospital Center, which is an independent hospital and one of the oldest hospitals in New York has been proactive about creating tents for the flood of patients, has added additional beds and have found ways to make the long lines surrounding the hospital more efficient during these unprecedented times.

I wanted to take this opportunity to interview her to extend her knowledge to us, convey how her experience has been thus far, share some of her habits to deal with the stress and how we can keep ourselves healthy.

In your professional opinion, how come New York is the US city that has been hit the worst?

New York is an international city. Being a diverse population, there is a lot of interaction with the global community. On top of that, we are a highly populated and vertical city, making it extremely concentrated. Germs love to spread fast in that environment. You press the button on the elevator in your apartment building and you know 10 others have already touched that surface to share their germs.

As an NYC ER Doctor coming face to face with the Coronavirus every day, what are some things you are doing to protect yourself?

Being continuously exposed to infected patients makes me at high risk, so I am in full PPE when I am working. I make sure I change my clothes as soon as I enter my house, I wash my scrubs and clothes daily in hot water and I change my shoes before I leave the hospital. And of course, a lot of routine hand-washing.

Being a native New Yorker, what are some of the proud moments you have witnessed since this pandemic started?

I know we are known as tough and not the friendliest but when push comes to shove, we New Yorkers band together. It is something that I have been lucky enough to experience and makes me extremely proud to be a New Yorker. In the past few weeks, I have witnessed so much kindness being exhibited. People coming together. The amount of support from the Brooklyn community for the hospital has been tremendous. Local restaurants have been donating food, people have come forward with masks. Within the Emergency Room department, our camaraderie has been strengthened, people have stepped up as leaders, and we are very compassionate and encouraging of each other. Our departmental informal slogan is “Brooklyn, we go hard”, our faculty physicians, residents physicians, nurses, patient care assistants, environmental services staff and registration/admitting staff in all departments have all stepped up in this time of need. Even within the ER and medical communities around the world, doctors have been incredibly supportive and have been exchanging what they have learned from their experiences and sharing best care practices for the patients with other doctors. We are all working together to try to save as many lives as possible. It is unbelievably uplifting to be able to witness all of this. I am also incredibly humbled to be able to help.

We can only imagine the bravery and selflessness it takes to walk into the ER every day and fight this invisible enemy, could you please share how you cope with the stress that must come along with this job?

Sticking to routines have been extremely helpful in helping manage with the stress. Finding ways to regularly destress are more important now. Connecting with my family and friends via Facetime, meditating, incorporating yoga, prayer and exercise are my usual outlets. I typically start my day by doing Surya Namaskar, then I do a meditation and while I have a cup of coffee I go through my daily affirmations. I end my morning ritual by looking at 5 positive quotes and each night I find comfort in reflecting with gratitude about the events that I had experienced throughout the day.

Amongst the daily chaos you’ve endured since Coronavirus started taking over the city, have you witnessed any acts of kindness or anything inspirational you could share?

Our Emergency Medicine Club medical students have been very kind enough to offer the Emergency Doctors to help with going and buying groceries, assisting with childcare, helping to walk their dogs and basically help in whichever way that they can. To see this ensures me that their drive to be doctors are truly out of compassion for others.

As an individual, what are some things we can do to help support the doctors and nurses working in NYC’s hospitals during these urgent times?

Stay home. The emergency room is inundated as it is. Unless you think it is urgent and needs to be treated right away, call your primary care doctor for routine care. You are also running the risk of exposure to yourself by coming in. To help support the doctors and nurses during these unprecedented times, it would be helpful to donate masks, PPE equipment, and food this is all very helpful for us. Food may seem weird, but a lot of the times, it gets so busy in the ER we don’t even have time to go and grab food so that is very helpful.

We all know the importance of social distancing, is there anything else as a community that we should be doing to help flatten out the curve?

Everyone is susceptible to this virus, regardless of age, for a while there was speculation that the younger population was not getting infected. NYC is the proof. The other thing is that some are asymptomatic carriers. Meaning, they carry the coronavirus but they don’t exhibit any symptoms. So keep in mind, looks can be deceiving. Corona Virus is spread through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Close socializing at the dinner table where chewing, laughing, talking excitedly can also sometimes send droplets from an infected person flying into the air. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. There is also a possibility that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or their eyes. By social distancing, allowing for 6 feet distance between people, it decreases the possibility from breathing in from a probable carrier. For example, I’m walking behind a person on the sidewalk (less than 6 feet), he sneezes and I walk right into his sneeze, it may be the commencement of an infection.

1) I can’t stress enough about washing your hands, minimum of 20 seconds please and don’t forget your thumbs.

2) If you wear a mask wear them appropriately, it should be over the bridge of your nose.

3) Make sure to disinfect your phones. Most remember to sanitize their hands but many forget to sanitize their phones, and that is something that DOES touch the face.

If someone is to have a medical emergency other than Coronavirus symptoms, is it safe to come to the ER?

Yes, definitely. To keep those that are not infected safe, most Emergency Rooms are sectioned off to COVID-19 areas and non-contaminated areas.

What should you do if you think you have the Coronavirus disease?

There is a great link for the CDC. Things that you should watch out for is shortness of breath, lightheadedness, and chest pain which is most important signs that you need to come to the Emergency Room.

Will New York City ever be the same?

Yes, it will be better. There is so much we have learned from this experience and it has made us stronger. There is also a sense of camaraderie that New Yorkers have, we come together during this hardship and that has made it all the better as a city for all of us. The amount of compassion shown by most has been inspiring.

Sheena, I am so honored to have you as my sister and am grateful for all the heroes that are out there on the front lines helping those in need during these unprecedented times. It is not easy. We salute you. We are all in this together.

Love + Light,