What I’ve Learned Treating Patients Suffering From COVID-19

This disease is like nothing I have ever seen in my career

Dr. Hesham A. Hassaballa

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Photo by CDC on Unsplash

As a critical care medicine specialist, I am used to seeing the sickest of the sick. I am used to seeing patients with respiratory failure. I am used to seeing patients in shock. I am used to seeing patients gasping for air, with dangerously low oxygen levels. I am used to seeing patients in kidney failure. Never, however, have I seen patients as sick as those with COVID-19.

Frightening Hypoxemia (low oxygen levels)

First of all, almost all of these patients present with such frighteningly low oxygen levels. I am also a lung specialist, and I am accustomed to seeing patients with low oxygen levels. Normal oxygen levels are anything above 90%, and I have seen patients come with levels as low as the 70s. Rarely, however, do I see patients presenting to our hospital with oxygen levels in the 50s and even lower. What’s more perplexing, sometimes these patients have oxygen levels that low and have absolutely no symptoms. I have never seen that before in my career as either a lung or critical care specialist.

Frighteningly Quick Deterioration

Secondly, when these patients with COVID-19 crash, they crash very quickly and crash very hard. Each patient is a ticking time-bomb, and they could be doing fine for several hours, and then — suddenly — they are gasping for air with plummeting oxygen levels and a plummeting blood pressure. One patient — a sweet woman in her 60s — was holding her own for several days. She was still very sick, but she was holding her own. All of the sudden, she became severely short of breath and was gasping for air. Despite getting multiple interventions, including going on a ventilator, she suffered cardiac arrest and died. We were all devastated.

As a critical care specialist, I am used to seeing the sickest of the sick. Never, however, have I seen patients as sick as those with COVID-19

What I’ve Learned Taking Care Of These Patients

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Dr. Hesham A. Hassaballa

NY Times featured Pulmonary and Critical Care Specialist | Physician Leader | Author and Blogger | His latest book is “Code Blue,” a medical thriller.