When Dr. Steve Short of Manhattan answered an urgent call for doctors in New York City in late March, there was a very high rate of infection and multiple deaths due to the COVID-19 virus.
“I thought I was there to help with some ventilators,” Short told the Abilene Rotary Club last week.
When he arrived he found out there were no pulmonary/clinical care doctors in the Brooklyn hospital. They had 100 ventilators, three respiratory therapists, nine ICUs but no specialists.
Short quickly became the leader of five doctors. He created two ICU teams to cover the 15 beds of the sickest people in the hospital, one to cover the day shift and one to cover the night shift.
Every staff member of the team was a volunteer.
“Every staff member gave their all. Never a question was asked,” Short said. “They were there to serve. All were equally committed.”
Short said he signed up for five days.
“No!” he was told. “We need you.”
When he arrived COVID-19 was at its peak of crisis and he stayed two weeks.
He called COVID-19 a disease manifestation with no answers.
“Brain not functioning, ‘COVID brain,’ lungs not functioning, ‘COVID lung,’ kidneys not functioning, ‘COVID kidneys,’ liver not functioning, ‘COVID liver,’” he said.
He said most alarming was that no one was allowed to be with their families as families were not allowed in the hospital.
“Nowhere. Not one visitor allowed,” he said.
He arranged to have the policy changed to allow one family member in to see their loved ones.
“Many brought the iPhone and Facetimed with other members of the family,” he said. “Two weeks ago, loved ones were enjoying life, interacting, celebrating. Now nothing.”
“I would always ask if they would allow me to pray. They always said yes and always thanked me. They said they were praying for me, as well,” Short said.
He said the daily routine was crisis management of intubations, compressions, unexplained sicknesses and unexplained deaths.
“Over and over,” he said. “Empty bed. New patient. Repeat.”
Short said the hospital was also working with different languages of Spanish, Polish, Hassidic and Chinese and different dialogues, requiring interpreting by other doctors and nurses.
Short began to draw and post his reflections on his Facebook page which received nationwide attention.
He drew nurses, doctors, secretaries, Brooklyn and Manhattan.
Because of his Facebook posts, Short was interviewed by TV stations and daily newspapers.
It was when the numbers started going down and more doctors arrived, that Short returned to Kansas.
“I needed to quarantine and come back to Whitney and now a new puppy, Hope Brooklyn,” he said.
“It was a difficult decision to go to New York and help. It was a painful decision to come home.”
It was the last week in March when his clinic in Marysville closed.
“They were basically locking up the hospital and no one was going to be allowed to come in, and all outpatient clinics were to be closed,” he said.
That same week all of his out patient clinics were canceled in multiple communities and his office in Manhattan was closed to patient traffic.
“All surgeries were put on hold. Any clinic visit was to be by telemedicine,” he said.
He said his staff took a pay cut.
“We were preparing for the worst,” he said.
But the worst didn’t happen. There was only one patient in ICU with COVID and he went home in four days.
“At the end of the week I had an urgent email from my medical society,” Short said. “There was a frantic need for pulmonary/critical care doctors in New York.”
He said he had been watching New York Gov. Andrew Coumo’s daily briefings. Short sent out an email saying he was available.
“I then told my wife, Whitney. I then told my children,” he said.
It was a matter of days that he was notified that he was desperately needed.
He left on Easter morning. United Airlines provided free airfare for volunteers.
“When I parked in the long-term parking lot, I was the only car,” Short said. “I was the only passenger on the flight. There were no cabs in New York.”
He said a man assisted him in getting his luggage and gave him a ride.
“I walked in downtown Brooklyn to get a bite to eat. No one was on the streets; no cars. Luckily a sandwich shop was open.”
Contact Tim Horan at firstname.lastname@example.org.