Paul Buchanan, MD

“It’s an Acutely Devastating Thing”: Chief Clinical Officer Shares His COVID-19 Experience

Mar 17 2021

As part of an innovative art project planned for downtown Springfield, OH, a few of our market leaders were honored to participate by writing personal essays about their 2020 experience.

Adam Groshan, our president and CEO in Springfield, previously shared his thoughts about the honor he has felt being able to serve his community during this pandemic. Now, Paul Buchanan, MD, our chief clinical officer in Springfield, reveals what he has seen in his hospitals as well as his hopes for the future.

Read Dr. Buchanan’s firsthand thoughts on 2020 and COVID-19 here.

I remember hearing about COVID-19 in late 2019 and idly wondering if it was going to be a problem. When it hit Italy, it set off alarms. With awareness came an impetus to learn everything about it. That included listening to our ministry’s leaders to educate myself and prepare. Looking back at my memory of COVID-19, at first it was awareness, followed by alarm, education and adaptation to what we were going to have to do as a health care system…

As an internal medicine doctor, viruses are in my wheelhouse. I am aware of infection as well as immunology and have experience with infectious disease. I wasn’t worried about being able to understand COVID-19, but the thing that was most intimidating was being able to communicate and adapt our health care system quickly to manage its diagnosis and treatment…

It was unnerving to see how COIVD-19 patients who came walking into the hospital could look satisfactory one minute and be in cardiopulmonary arrest 30 minutes later. The rapid deterioration was shocking and very hard for the care team to deal with, particularly in the ER. You started to get to know a patient and think he or she was stable and going to be okay. Then you see that patient to go into a sudden, severe, fatal deterioration and you can’t save them – it’s an acutely devastating thing. There were lots of tears.

This disease is very capricious. People have gotten it who have followed the guidelines, but they may have children or work acquaintances who had asymptomatic disease and passed the infection. They picked it up from close contacts. We saw several husbands and wives infected and hospitalized concurrently.

At our peak, we had 75 COVID-19 inpatients on two floors at one time. That was the worst and lowest point. Today, we are seeing much less of this virus in the hospital and community. Why? I think it’s a combination of a significant population with acquired immunity in people who had symptomatic COVID-19, plus many more people who had asymptomatic and those who have been vaccinated…

While the vaccines give hope, the resistance of people to taking the vaccines is disheartening, as is the persistent, spotty acceptance of masking, social distancing and hand washing. The longer the pandemic goes on, the more variants we are going to create. Each mutation will be stronger with higher infectivity and potential for increased lethality. That’s what gives me pause. It is important to know we haven’t wiped this out yet.

At least the vaccines are out, and they are already improving things. We are so very fortunate to now have vaccines that are so highly effective in preventing severe disease and death. Reducing hospitalizations and deaths from this virus is the most important thing.

Stay updated on what Mercy Health is doing related to COVID-19.

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