Member Stories

“Reality is Hard – Epicenter Reflections” by NYC Hospitalist and ACH Faculty, Swana de Gijsel

Friday, April 3, 2020

Dear all,

First and foremost a BIG BIG thank you for all the support you have been showing and sharing. It is truly felt and appreciated and I am sending lots of love back to all of you. Because this COVID thing is hitting us all. 

Secondly,  I am doing ok personally, in this very moment. And that is all we have. Things are changing rapidly, reality is changing even faster and most of us are not particularly good at that. Of letting go of our routines, our habits, our sense of control. And that is what it is.

When walking into the hospital last week Monday I ran into one of our ER nurses, Russian, a veteran, survived 9/11, the westside highway. I am usually a little intimidated by her but that morning I felt deeply reassured. I reflected on my last 7 years of working here, the many unstable patients we took care of, those we send to the ICU and intubated, or transitioned to palliative at some point. There was my team and I could decide how I wanted to show up.

This was Monday and the hospital had changed a lot when I left my 7 day stretch on Sunday night.

With our no visitor policy (heart breaking for patients, specifically the pregnant, elderly and dying) the wards feel like a ghost town. Only health care providers and essential workers are allowed. Personal protective equipment is still available but guideline in how to use them have placed many of us at unnecessary risk over the last weeks.  Medically speaking this is different form anything I have ever seen before. Patients, overall healthy and relatively young come in with acute respiratory failure and get sicker quickly. Others seem to be ok on day 1-3 then get progressively sicker. And the elderly coming in sick and overall not doing well. 

We are trying to limited contact time with patients to limit exposure to us, and when walking into their rooms they are alone, TV is on and listening to our president telling the world there are enough supplies, ventilators and staff. It is unprecedented. 

In summary, most of what you read in the papers is true.

My biggest fear is us health care workers that are starting to get sick. Will we be getting a ventilator? The first nurses died, friends of colleagues of mine are being intubated in ICU's.

Seeing reality as it is, is hard right now. And I am also offered new opportunities that help me to connect to my purpose. To find a reason that this dutch doctor ended up  in the epicenter of a pandemic in New York. I worked so hard over the last years to find my way out of the front line, away from the acuity and now i am pulled right back in. Not just me but any provider is being deployed to help where the need is most. I am rethinking the concept of wellness and how emotional support is one of our basic needs in times of acute and ongoing trauma. We are working on communication curriculums on how to deliver bad news, have end of life conversations in a compassionate and timely matter. In the evening time I am watching ventilator support videos and learn new skills sets to be prepared for what to come. Medicine is changing in a profound way as is our society.

Grateful for today and feeling healthy. For my daily bike rides when I can take deep breathes without thinking of all the micro coronavirus particles entering my lungs. For all of you and to be so lucky to have all the love in my life. And my colleagues who I learn from everyday and trust deeply. 

Stay healthy! And Sending you lots of love,


Swana de Gijsel, MD, MSc, Assistant Professor, Weill Cornell Medical College. She works as a hospitalist at the Weill Cornell Medical Center and Lower Manhattan Presbyterian Hospital. She is Faculty in Training at the Academy of Communication in Healthcare and teaches Relation-Centered Communication workshops at New York Presbyterian. 

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