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'The physical and emotional toll is evident': On the front lines, Colorado doctor volunteers in New York

National Jewish Health's Dr. Gabriel Lockhart is at a New York hospital assisting with the COVID-19 pandemic. Here is his story.
Credit: Courtesy Dr. Gabriel Lockhart

NEW YORK — Dr. Gabriel Lockhart, lung specialist & critical care intensivist at National Jewish Health, volunteered to assist at a New York hospital.

New York has been one of the hardest-hit states in the country, with tens of thousands of confirmed cases — a number that continues to grow each day. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention posts daily updates here.

Lockhart will treat New York patients through at least Monday, April 6. 9NEWS is sharing his blog posts as he's able to write them. The first entry can be found in full below.

RELATED: Colorado coronavirus latest: April 2

(Editor's note: Dr. Lockhart's blog is being shared in full in its original format.) 

Thursday, April 2, 1:17 a.m. ET

“I honestly forget what it felt like to be a doctor before COVID.” 

Our first day on the ICU wards was spent acclimating to their culture. Every hospital varies in their day-to-day logistics just enough to warrant seeing their process from a birds-eye-view initially. We were shown the ropes, having particularly engaging conversations with their well-informed critical care intensivists as I furiously scribbled notes. One intensivist, we’ll call him “Bill” (not his real name) was particularly helpful in guiding us through the logistics. We spent a lot of time in his office chatting about where their group started in pre-COVID preparation stages, their initial approach when it arrived, the subsequent shock-and-awe of their “surge” of crashing patients and their trial-and-error maneuvering through the thick. 

RELATED: 'Wear a mask at all times': On the front lines: Colorado doctor shares experience volunteering in New York

The hospital has done a remarkable job reallocating their resources and manpower. The number of medical ICU beds has been increased by more than three-fold. ICU’s that were once made for special surgery or neurology cases have all been turned into COVID patient beds. They physically reconstructed their rooms to allow for negative-pressure airborne isolation. Anesthesiologists and surgeons have stopped performing elective cases and are now focusing their efforts on collaborating with our ICU’s to do our procedures at bedside, which has been unbelievably appreciated to offload the influx of work placed on our shoulders. 

Unfortunately, the ICU’s staff and trainees have not been immune to illness - the team I’m charged with leading is currently made up of a patchwork of residents from various specialties pulled from other responsibilities to fill the gaps needed here on the frontlines. They are a resilient group, but the physical and emotional toll is evident in their eyes.

They are human, after all. Furthermore, is it fair to put the brunt of this responsibility on the shoulders of 20-something-year-olds for an event as transcendent as a once-in-a-century pandemic? 

RELATED: 'Two patients died today': On the front lines, Colorado doctor volunteers in New York

While chatting up the team, I asked for their personal take on what they’ve been experiencing. One said that he’s going to coin a new phrase: “New York: Now the city that only sleeps” — referring to the current state of the lockdown. And another relayed, “I honestly forget what it felt like to be a doctor before COVID.” I wouldn’t say the city is shellshocked, because the people of New York are some of the strongest, most resilient people in America (almost to a fault), but the uncertainty of their current state is palpable.

As hour #12 in the hospital began and we were close to putting the stamp on a long but successful first day, something unexpected and wonderful happened. From 7:00 - 7:05 pm the people of New York began pouring out to their balconies of surrounding apartment towers. They, and any stragglers on the streets, started yelling/cheering/hooping/hollering and banging their pots and pans. Ambulances and firetrucks flashed their lights and honked their horns. “Bill” came back into our office to say, “Do you hear that? They’re doing this for us.” 

> Watch the video below to see the tribute.

Every evening at shift change, as the night team is entering and the day team is leaving, New Yorkers show their love and appreciation for healthcare workers putting their lives on the line on their behalf. In an era of entitlement, lawsuits, anti-vaxxers, and “Dr. Google” self-care, I cannot begin to express how good this made us feel. It was extremely touching. Perhaps New Yorkers aren’t so hard after all. 😉

I slept hard that night, excited to finally be let loose on my own the next day, but exhausted. Unfortunately, I awoke to a terrifying text this morning from “Bill,” saying, “Team, bad news. I’ve got a fever...”

COVID strikes again? Good thing we wore a mask at all times. 

— Dr. Gabriel Lockhart
    Lung Specialist & Critical Care Intensivist
    National Jewish Health

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