Health

An emergency physician: ‘You do as much as you can to comfort them’

A Winchester emergency physician shares his daily routine, family life, and the critical time to be with COVID-19 patients.

Winchester Hospital
Winchester Hospital Winchester Hospital

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This story was told by Teriggi Ciccone, an emergency physician at Winchester Hospital, and has been transcribed and edited from a conversation with Kristi Palma.

My name is Teriggi Ciccone. I’m an emergency physician at Winchester Hospital. I’ve been there since 2004. There has never been anything like this that has happened before. We are trained in emergency medicine for disaster preparedness. However, I have personally never had to do it on this scale for this long. One of the hardest things for me, personally, is maintaining this level of preparedness for as long as we have to and not knowing how long it’s going to last for. If you think about a hurricane or a natural disaster or something like that, you can get your head around it a little more. You know it’s going to stop raining at some point, the wind is going to stop, and the power is going to go on in a few days. But, with this, we really don’t know how long this is going to be going on for and how long we have to stay this prepared.

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I’m starting my day today at Winchester Hospital emergency room. I’ll be there for 10 hours. My daily routine has not really changed. Family life is different. My kids are around more and that’s great. I’ll go to the hospital today and start my shift. Things have been getting busier. We’re not yet overwhelmed. But it’s hard. We do have a lot of extra help from other parts of the hospital, which has been really nice. A lot of nurses from some of the services that are running right now are there. So it’s kind of all hands on deck. It’s been great. A lot of the physicians who have office practices have kind of joined to help with the hospitalized patients, so it’s been a really positive team atmosphere.

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The patients that are very sick can get unstable very quickly, especially with difficulty breathing. Sometimes we need to act very quickly, almost more so than we would in emergency medicine in general, to stabilize these people. Our hospital increased our ICU capacity by 50 percent. We have made extra space for emergency department patients in different areas of the first floor of the hospital. Everyone on the hospital team — from medical staff to nurses to engineering to housekeeping — everyone has pitched in. People have been very creative in how we’re approaching solving this problem. Again, as we move forward, and as I move forward, really the most difficult [part] for me is the, how long is this going to go? How long do I have to stay this alert? How long do I have to be covered from head to toe when I’m working in the emergency room with the PPE? How long [do] I have to take my clothes off in my garage and run into my shower when I get home at night and not say hi to my kids before I do that? I’m generally holding up well but it’s hard with the uncertainty of the duration of time.

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Keep up the social distancing. I think it really is working. I, admittedly, was a little skeptical at first. In Massachusetts, I think social distancing has really helped us. I would say keep up the good work. It’s working. It’s frustrating to not know how long it will last. And no one really knows. But, for the here and now, what we’re doing is the right thing.

Overall, most people are OK. But there’s a small number that do get very sick from [COVID-19] and, when they do, they get sick very quickly. The people who do pass away, it’s most often a respiratory failure. That can be difficult. What’s more difficult now, especially for family members, and staff members too, is with the restrictions around social distancing and limiting visitors in the hospital. There are times when people are not able to have their family present, family is not able to be present to say goodbye to loved ones when they pass away, which is really tragic. You do as much as you can to comfort them, knowing that they’re going through something incredibly frightening that no one is ever prepared for — and especially these people who are, maybe, otherwise generally well, not chronically ill. Part of our job — as much as giving them IV fluids, putting them on ventilators, and giving them medicine — is to comfort them. Especially in those last moments, that’s critical. That’s an enormous part of what we do.

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