With the pandemic overshadowing our daily lives, you might assume that the doctors who work in an ICU primarily see patients with COVID-19. Of course, that type of care has made up much of clinicians’ regular activity since the arrival of the new coronavirus.
However, Dr. Chitra Safaya, a board-certified infectious disease and internal medicine physician with Sharp Grossmont Hospital, says that, unfortunately, the pandemic didn’t halt the other types of conditions she’s also there to treat.
“My day involves seeing a large variety of interesting and challenging cases,” Dr. Safaya says. “I see critical ICU patients in septic shock, fever in immunocompromised patients, those with COVID-19, infected wounds, the list goes on. I also provide input to antimicrobial stewardship and infection control committees.”
It’s all in a day’s work for one of Sharp’s health care heroes on the COVID-19 front lines.
Born and raised in New Delhi, India, Dr. Safaya was always attracted to medicine, though both of her parents are attorneys. “Living in a developing country, I realized that public health and prevention of disease were the key to a healthy society,” she says.
She moved to the U.S. in 2006 to pursue a master’s degree in public health and later completed her internal medicine residency and infectious disease fellowship at Mount Sinai Hospital in Chicago. Over the past decade, she and other experts in the field have carefully tracked the SARS and MERS epidemics, which enabled them to recognize that the emergence of the novel coronavirus could be equally disruptive to the medical field and health of the general population.
Preparing and caring for patients with COVID-19
“As more information became available regarding the severity and ease of transmission of this novel virus, we realized that it could very well become the pandemic of modern times,” Dr. Safaya says. “There was a lot of fear stemming from lack of information about the disease transmission and the lack of treatment modalities available.”
However, with time and practice, Dr. Safaya shares that the medical community is now in a much better position to manage COVID-19 cases due to clinical trials, which have demonstrated promising results with IV antiviral medications, such as remdesivir, and steroids. Furthermore, the mode of transmission of the novel coronavirus is much clearer, as is the need for protective gear for health care workers and the public.
Nevertheless, the continued spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 and the constant care for the patients who have it can be emotionally and physically exhausting for health care providers like Dr. Safaya.
“Our day starts with hoping for the best and preparing for the worst,” she says. “My personal stress busters are my two little boys who never fail to bring a smile to my face. They help to recharge my energy so that I can tackle all the challenges of this pandemic on a daily basis.”
Dr. Safaya also credits her exceptional colleagues at Sharp Grossmont Hospital. From the doctors and nurses, to respiratory therapists and administrators, each person involved helps Dr. Safaya feel prepared every day to manage the challenges COVID-19 has brought.
“I am very grateful to be surrounded by doctors who have been working nonstop since the start of the pandemic,” she says. “Our excellent nurses and respiratory therapists in the COVID units tirelessly work every day and still have a smile on their face; our hospital administrators have provided us with the necessary infrastructure and PPE; and my fellow colleagues continue to share both resources and knowledge to tackle this pandemic head-on.”
Curbing the spread with community participation
However, Dr. Safaya is clear that it takes the cooperation of everyone — health care providers and community members alike — to effectively move past the pandemic. Having seen patients of all ages —both with and without preexisting conditions — transmit and recover from COVID-19, she encourages everyone to continue to be diligent about preventing its spread.
“COVID-19 doesn’t spare anybody,” Dr. Safaya says. “We have seen the whole spectrum of patients, from young, healthy people to older adults with multiple comorbid conditions. It is heartbreaking for families to not be able to see their loved ones, especially at the end of life. I strongly urge everyone to take simple precautions to slow the spread by masking, following hand hygiene and practicing safe physical distancing. We all are in this together.”