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Fighting COVID-19 in the ER: An Alum’s Story

Baltimore Emergency Physician Shares Fears, Challenges of Working on Front Lines

By Leslie Miller

Emergency room exterior

Hospital photo by iStock; doctor photo courtesy of Larry Edelman.

Dr. Larry Edelman '01 (below) and his emergency room colleagues are caring for a rising number of COVID-19 patients while trying to keep themselves and their families safe.

Dr. Larry Edelman ’01 had envisioned all types of disaster situations bursting into the emergency room: terrorism, multiple traumas, mass shootings. Not an infectious pandemic.

But there it was. Watching news reports about the coronavirus outbreak in Washington state, he realized COVID-19 could hit home. Now Edelman, who works the night shift as an emergency physician in two hospitals north of Baltimore, is facing it himself while bracing for the worst still to come.

The number of patients with COVID-19 is increasing daily, said Edelman, who earned his M.D. from the University of Maryland, Baltimore. They’re often critically ill, and because they can’t have visitors, they’re alone and scared. Health care workers are also scared—of contracting the virus and spreading it to others.Dr. Larry Edelman '01

“You just take it one day at a time and try to get through. You hope you don’t see anyone too sick, and you hope you don’t make any mistakes at work that would cause you to contaminate yourself,” Edelman said. “And when you see your relief, you’re happy and try to get your stuff wrapped up and try to get yourself home.”

Personal protective equipment is essential. Thankfully, at his hospitals, they have enough to go around. But shifts are nonstop, and breaks are few and far between. And now that all staff members must wear masks and minimize touching their faces to prevent contaminating themselves, Edelman tries to avoid eating or drinking during his eight- to 10-hour shift.

Even going home comes with a new routine for Edelman, who is taking extra steps to keep his wife and 2-year-old daughter safe and hoping it’s enough. After he parks his car and shuts the garage door, he strips down to his underwear, wipes down the car with sanitizer and jumps straight into the shower.

“Whether or not I should be sleeping in a separate bedroom is a conversation I have daily with my colleagues. It would be a much easier decision to move to the basement if my child was older and self-sufficient,” he said.

And while the daily reality of COVID-19 reminds him of the risks, it also strengthens his commitment to making a difference for as long as this outbreak continues.

“The health care workers who have contracted coronavirus while at work and became critically ill or passed away from this disease are heroes—no question about that,” Edelman said. “In my opinion, the rest of us are dedicated workers who made a commitment to ourselves, our profession and our community. As a society, I hope we can learn from this experience.”

 

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