Heroes walk among us. Front-line workers. First responders. Essential. We celebrate their contributions and we honor their efforts during such unparalleled times. These are some of their COVID-19 stories from the front lines.
What attracted Trevor Rogers to Piedmont Hospital’s Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit three years ago was their state-of-the-art Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) machines. These machines use heart-lung bypass technology for severe heart and respiratory failure prior to and following surgery. In essence, they function as a patient’s heart and lungs, providing a way for the organs to rest as they pump the blood, remove CO2, and oxygenate the blood. As a registered nurse specialized in caring for heart transplant patients pre and post-op surgery, it was a no-brainer.
“This super-specialized part of Piedmont is why I wanted to be here,” Rogers shares from his home in Edgewood/Candler Park. “I manage the day to day needs of patients, and this added layer of care that we can provide for them is my favorite part of the job.”
As American healthcare facilities began to brace for the potential influx of coronavirus patients in early spring, Piedmont Hospital opened early its new tower, situated near the future Northwest BeltLine Trail, dedicating one of its six floors to COVID-19 patients and began training nurses without critical care experience on how to use the ventilators.
“Initially, there was fear of ‘are we ready?’ ‘Do we know how to care for these patients?’ ‘Do we have enough supplies?’” the young Nashville native recalls. “Then we were like, ‘maybe it’s not coming?’”
In the end, the virus did hit Atlanta, and Piedmont Hospital was the first ICU to treat a COVID-19 patient.
“And that patient had to be put on ECMO.”
In the beginning, Rogers recalls that there was confusion about CDC guidelines and a misunderstanding about how to care for patients while staying protected. Despite the “overwhelming sense of the unknown,” his manager did a “good job of informing us.”
“It was most overwhelming before Piedmont had in-house testing, when we had to wait a few days for the results, and during this time we were using our PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). The in-house testing cut the wait down to three to six hours, which meant less PPE was wasted [if the patient tested negative].”
Thankfully, Piedmont had no issues with their PPE supply. Medical personnel were, however, required to re-use their N-95 masks during shifts.
From late March to mid-April, Rogers guesses that all 27 beds of dedicated floor will full, along with another 150 ICU beds. He saw the amount of patients requiring ECMO double, and they stayed on it longer than what he was used to seeing.
“Yes, it was scary. It was like, ‘Is this real?’ ‘Will it go away?’”
As a people person, the hardest part was seeing an intubated patient’s family call on Zoom.
“It was traumatizing to have people crying through Zoom, unable to be with their loved-one, and I was just standing there, facilitating the contact.”
When the first influx began, Trevor Rogers stopped going out at all. He took his temperature twice a day, three times a day when working, and would wear one of the handmade masks his aunt had sewed for him when going out for essential goods.
It wasn’t until mid to late May that he was finally ready to venture out of his small, studio apartment, albeit with some reserve.
“I went roller-skating on the BeltLine to Piedmont Park with a mask.”
The recent rise in COVID cases in Atlanta has put a halt to that though, and Rogers has resigned himself to skating around his neighborhood.
“I would love to say that I’m surprised about the rise in numbers. Although, I think most people in the medical field expected an increase in cases, I assume nobody was prepared for the extent,” he sighs. “Hopefully, most of the increase is related to the recent holiday and things will slow back down again.”
Like elsewhere in the city, Piedmont has been following the trend in admitting more COVID patients. Within the last week or so, Rogers indicates that their case load has doubled, and smaller facilities have been struggling with ICU beds.
“This is definitely changing the way we’re going to interact with one another,” he muses. “All I can say is be cautious. Everyone is stir crazy at this point, and it’s easy to think you won’t get sick in the moment. No one thinks it’s gonna happen to them. We’ve had really sick young, old, skinny, overweight people.
“Just keep in mind we have no idea what the long lasting effects of the disease are and how it will affect our future bodies. Practice good hygiene and be responsible.”