By Lauren Kuwik
Covid-19 exploded into our community last week. As a primary care doctor, I was left juggling what felt like a dozen balls in the air at once.
We transitioned to video visits in an effort to keep patients out of the office when possible. We divided our office into sick and well, both physically and in time, seeing non-Covid-related urgent issues in the morning and potential Covid patients in separate rooms in the afternoon. I hurriedly reached out for extra personal protective equipment to use when obtaining samples for testing. My amazing secretary drove across Orchard Park and even out to Williamsville to get supplies from my generous subspecialist colleagues.
We are fortunate. Many other offices are not. With patient volume being down, many are forced to lay off a significant number of staff. Some have shut their doors. Like any private-sector business, independent physician offices face tough decisions.
Patients are understandably scared. A number have called requesting excuses for work: the patient with severe asthma, the spouse of a transplant patient, the pregnant nurse. We do the best we can, addressing work restrictions on a case-by-case basis. I am exceedingly grateful to my mental health colleagues who are meeting patients’ needs in this anxiety-producing time with telemedicine services.
As a community, we need to work together to reduce transmission. Avoid close contact with anyone other than members of your immediate household if possible. My kids have not seen their grandparents outside of FaceTime since last week. Thirteen-mile training runs are lonely without my running partners. We wave from afar to neighbors who previously peppered my backyard daily for pickup basketball or a game of “manhunt.” Test shortages hamper our ability to track cases, however, data from China suggests that for every identified case, there were five to 10 unidentified ones. We must assume Covid-19 is everywhere.
Don’t despair, as help is on the horizon. We have had glimpses of potentially effective medications. Vaccine trials are underway. By buckling down and truly socially distancing ourselves, we can buy time and possibly spare millions of lives.
Not too long ago, I had the opportunity to visit the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, a remarkable museum that presents some of the darkest aspects of humanity, as well as a hopeful message on the power of human connection. Whenever I have to explain historical atrocities to my children, I try to focus on this: I hope that if met with similar circumstances, we would heed the call to help others, even in times of uncertainty.
Social distancing is the call of our generation. As a health care community, we can get this under control; we just need time. We will risk our lives and go to work for you. Please stay home for us. I am confident Western New Yorkers can band together in this effort, even from our separate homes.
Lauren Kuwik, M.D., is an internist and pediatrician in private practice in Orchard Park.