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'The work’s not done yet': 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: Dr. Ann Granchelli
Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York

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 is back in New York for a second time this month treat patients suffering from COVID-19. 9NEWS is sharing his blog posts.

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

Monday, April 27

“The work’s not done yet.”

After New York, my time spent at home in Denver was bittersweet. Decompressing did not come easy. I struggle to put into words the difficulty of going from the constant pressure and daily grind on the front lines in a pandemic-stricken city, to transitioning back to a semblance of normalcy. Or whatever normalcy means today - when I’m not making medical decisions with lives at stake as often as one might choose what to stream on TV from their couch. How do you process what it feels like when a husband and wife are roomed together on the hospital wards, but you have to tell the husband that we need to urgently wheel his wife away to the ICU? How do you process when you realize she will have to be placed on life support and – in all likelihood – this is the last chance he has to speak to his love? Because if she goes on the ventilator, the odds of her ever liberating from life support successfully are extraordinarily slim… How do you process when he asks if he can still go upstairs to be roomed with her, but you know this can’t happen because the ICU is already stretched thin for beds? That he’s the “lucky one” to not be sick enough for the ICU? How do you process the look of desperation on the husband’s face at the exact moment he realizes this may be the last minute he spends with his wife, and he buries his face in his hands? 

Credit: Dr. Gabriel Lockhart
Dr. Gabriel Lockhart in New York helping combat COVID-19.

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This was one of many earth shattering moments I carried back home with me from New York. I can’t tell you the number of times I was excitedly asked, “How was New York?” with that person anxiously awaiting a vivid and grisly description that could only rival a story with elements of a pandemic meets world war meets zombie apocalypse movie. Yet, the only responses I could muster were, “It was ok!” or “It was a memorable/interesting/unforgettable [insert blasé cliché] experience...” 

My life was hectic upon returning; I had several variations of debriefing to complete, doling out professional advice sought by physicians across the nation, interviews with media, conferences to speak at virtually, and missed texts/emails to respond to. The overwhelming support from friends and family was loved and appreciated, but the attention was nonstop. All I wanted to do was sleep, workout, shut off my phone, and have the hardest part of my day be my responsibilities as a dog dad (I fostered the most lovable puppy less than 24 hours after my return). Then I received a text from my boss that said, “They loved you in New York. Would you be interested in going back next week?” My heart sank. Honestly the thought of going back hadn’t crossed my mind. Did I have it in me to do it again so soon? I wasn’t sure and tabled the response for later. 

Credit: Dr. M. Patricia George

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Eventually I was afforded a few days to disconnect. I started to feel rejuvenated, my body and mind were right again. Gabe got his groove back! However as time went on, as I reinserted myself virtually into society and caught back up to the state of the world, I started to get that hunger again. I saw how hard my colleagues were working, learning more about this disease, and even conquering it! Suddenly it felt like I had been napping on the bench during Game 7 of the World Series while the rest of my team was grinding through the single greatest achievement of their lives. More advances were being made, new COVID experts were being molded. 

Credit: Dr. Gabriel Lockhart
Dr. Gabriel Lockhart with his colleagues at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York.

Then I saw news reports of understandably frustrated yet dead wrong masses of people demonstrating against lockdowns. We began to see increases in patient loads admitted to our ICU’s after we thought we had already peaked in Colorado. It made me wonder, “Why are we doing what we’re doing on the front lines of New York and Denver? Why bother saving lives while putting our own lives directly in harm’s way when ignorance like this will completely unravel the progress we’ve made?” However, something amazing was subsequently sent to me. I saw images of true heroes like the nurses in their scrubs and N-95’s protesting the protesters in downtown Denver, blocking their brigade of belligerence just a few short blocks from my residence. By this time I had already known my answer to my boss’s text, but this affirmed it: “The work’s not done yet. Of course I’m going back.”

Credit: Dr. M. Patricia George

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You’d think my mother would have been upset, beside herself, and trying to convince me not to go back after I told her the news. Instead, she sat on the news for a day and then called me to say, “I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I was worried and always thinking about you, but I know why you’re doing this. Whether it’s in Denver or New York, I know you’d be putting yourself in harm’s way to take care of the sickest of the sick, doing right by your patients. So I won’t tell you not to go.” As a retired physician, my mother supported me because she understood that physicians and all healthcare workers live by a code. The Hippocratic Oath for physicians is often incorrectly surmised as "Primum non nocere," or “First, do no harm”. My interpretation of the true oath, however, can be paraphrased succinctly as, “Either help, or get out of the way.” I write this update from New York after having arrived a few days ago, as a public servant performing his duty to help, live by example, and do right by others.

One team, everyone.

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

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