Justin Genziano, M.D.’17, is an anesthesiology resident at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center.
It has been two months since the pandemic crept into our lives here in New York City. Back in March, I steeled myself for a waking nightmare after hearing about the dire situation faced in Wuhan, then Italy, then Seattle; a wisp of contagion slowly drifting across the globe.
There was no crash of a tidal wave, like we expected. Instead, the influx of patients slowly and steadily increased. As we intubated more and more patients, the need for more ICU space also increased. We outfitted our operating rooms into ICUs to meet this need. Providers and staff from all over our institution mobilized to treat patient after patient, many hungry for air. As anesthesiologists, our expertise in critical care and airway management became essential assets. We supported our patients and did the same for each other. Day by day, somehow this incredible task became…manageable.
New York City really is something else. This city is a living thing, mostly moody, and never predictable. But during this difficult time, I watched its generosity blossom. Most of us rely on public transportation to get around, especially to and from work. But soon that became a risk factor in and of itself. We were supported by ride-hailing and car rental companies that helped provide our transportation for work. Local restaurants all around the city, hurting themselves, kept us fed day and night, body and soul. That 7 p.m. roll call heard around the city applauding the work and sacrifice of those of us on the front line is a bittersweet balm after a rough day. We did not go into medicine seeking thanks. We did it because we love to help. Sometimes this recognition is overwhelming, even embarrassing. But as I look outside my window, I see couples on roof tops halleloo-ing, horn players heralding anthems, and little kids banging pots and pans with their families – all watching and listening to a city united, not just for the front line, but for each other. It is not just for me. They need it, too.
As the numbers recede, our work continues. Normal will never be what it was several months ago, and it will still be a while yet before we know what “normal” will even look like. In the meantime, we have this opportunity to take a deep breath and reflect. One of our attendings, at a recent meeting, stated that we will come out of this as the world’s experts in managing COVID-19. It is a somber accolade. However, it means we are well-positioned to help. That same mission that guided our decision to become physicians holds firm – even in a pandemic.