COVID-19 Will Not Break Dr. Craig Smith & NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital
Published: March 31, 2020; Page Last Updated: January 3, 2021
"Adversity causes some to break and others to break records."
That is one of my favorite quotes. It's simple. It's actionable. The quote conjures transformation. Light from darkness. Freedom from constraint. Lemonade from lemons.
Specific to COVID-19, those facing adversity are everywhere including the epicenters of Italy, Spain, China, Germany and the United States.
Right now, medical care providers are facing an unimaginable type of adversity that manifests in coughs, fever, shortness of breath, pneumonia, lung failure and worse. These heroes are fighting World War III not for a country, not for pride, not for anything short of humanity. They fight for their patients' next breath and for time.
New York's Coronavirus Cases Surge
In the United States, the Coronavirus War is causing havoc in the state of New York. With 67,325 cases and 1,342 deaths, New York could surpass the reported case count across China this week, according to Worldometer.
The seismic COVID-19 blindspot has rendered New York hospitals with massive shortages of personal protective equipment, medical supplies, ventilators and, most importantly, people to care for the sick.
One of the heroes on the COVID-19 frontline is Dr. Craig Smith, the Surgeon-In-Chief of NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center. I have been fortunate to know, to work with, and to learn from Dr. Smith over the past 10 years.
His patients, which include President Bill Clinton and Barbara Walters, will tell you that Dr. Smith is an amazing person.
Throughout his career, Dr. Smith's pursuit of healthy hearts has helped transform cardiac care. As you may know, Dr. Smith was a national, principal investigator for one of the first transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) clinical trials. That research study led to the FDA approval for a non-invasive treatment of aortic stenosis, a fatal type of heart disease that is under-diagnosed and under-treated.
Now, Dr. Smith and the NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital team have been called upon to play 24/7 defense against an invisible opponent that does not tire and exponentially multiplies.
Dr. Smith's Context & Communication
When it comes to this type of adversity... This type of chaos... It can be difficult for people (including me) to contextualize the realities of the COVID-19 nightmare.
If you are not in an infested hotspot... If you have not been personally impacted by COVID-19... If you have not had your "Rock Hudson" moment just yet... How can you make sense of it? How can you relate? How can you even imagine what Dr. Smith and his team are going through?
If you are Dr. Smith... How can you communicate and motivate those around you to "fight-the-fight", to "dig-in", to "face-the-fear and do it anyways", while some of your colleagues and your friends are now on ventilators?
One way Dr. Smith is helping his troops manage this pandemic is through a daily update. Each day, Dr. Smith sends an update to faculty and staff about their response and their priorities specific to COVID-19. The posts are 100% authentic. The posts are public for all to see and to learn from.
Dr. Smith does not sugar-coat the realities of today or the road ahead. His use of words, analogies and truth will quickly bring context to anyone who has not yet embraced the reasons for social distancing.
Here are select examples from Dr. Smith's daily updates:
- March 28, 2020: Dear Colleagues, I couldn’t disguise the fact that yesterday tried my soul, for reasons I won’t revisit. I could continue in that vein by citing projections from any number of public sources that predict we will be rationing ventilators and ICU beds within a few weeks. These apocalyptic scenarios are hard to ignore if... Keep reading.
- March 27, 2020: Dear Colleagues, The enemy is inside the wire. This became unavoidably obvious yesterday when another colleague was intubated. Just one of an unsettling number of new ventilator cases but proof for everyone of how real this is getting. Keep reading.
- March 26, 2020: Dear Colleagues, I can begin today with a sunny ray of optimism regarding our PPE (personal protective equipment) supply. It was just announced by NYP that a surgical mask should be worn in all hospital and clinical areas by anyone working in proximity to other people... Stepping out of the sunshine and back into the cave, I must report that the number of patients on ventilators more than doubled in the past 3 days. Keep reading.
- March 25, 2020: Dear Colleagues, It may be obvious that writing these updates is a daily struggle to balance terror with reassurance. Today the steady drumbeat of new cases continue... Less than 24 hours ago, I mentioned that a rapid response team of Surgery residents was “being formed.” Overnight they went into action, as the self-designated “Surgical Workforce Access Team” (SWAT), doing arterial lines, central lines, Foleys, OGT/NGT insertions, and dealing with difficult peripheral access. Keep reading.
An Unbreakable Resolve
In his March 24 update, Dr. Smith revealed that new COVID-19 cases at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital are increasing at an alarming rate of 10% a day. 20% of patients are ending up in intensive care units. 80% of patients in the intensive care units require ventilators.
Those statistics force my mind to shift back to that quote again.
"Adversity causes some to break and others to break records."
However, when reflecting upon the COVID-19 adversity, there are no records to break. This pandemic has never happened before. There are no documented or defined milestones for Dr. Smith's team to strive for as each moment, each hour, each day is a moving, uncertain target.
What can Dr. Smith offer to rally the human spirit? What can Dr. Smith submit to colleagues and friends who never signed up for this type of medical combat?
To lift his team, Dr. Smith evokes and integrates ideas of strength, unity, teamwork, and solidarity in his March 24 post.
"A forest of bamboo bends to the ground in a typhoon but rarely breaks," Dr. Smith writes. "We are that forest and we must not break. By the people, for the people."
I am speechless.
That is now one of my favorite quotes.
Thanks Dr. Smith, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital & Care Providers Everywhere!!!
On behalf of the patients at HeartValveSurgery.com...
Many, many, many thanks to Dr. Smith and all the medical personnel around the world fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
We are indebted to your service, your care and your resolve!!!
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Keep on tickin!