COVID-19 Update from Dr. Smith: 4/23/20

Each day during the COVID-19 crisis, Dr. Craig Smith, Chair of the Department of Surgery, sends an update to faculty and staff about pandemic response and priorities. Stay up to date with us.

Dear Colleagues,

A week or two ago, on a day when I was relatively late sending my Update, a colleague sent me a text, concerned that COVID had felled me.  I don’t remember why I was running late, but I was certainly flattered that someone noticed.  On the small chance that anyone else harbors that fear, I’ll begin by apologizing for publishing so late.  I have an excuse; I had an urgent cardiac operation to do today, in the one room we can still open for cases of that complexity.  The crisis-management activities that have been consuming my days were compressed into scraps of space-time bracketing the operation.  But I am not complaining!  All of that stuff is to heart surgery as commanding an aircraft carrier is to flying F18s off the deck.  Or so I imagine, never having done either. 

My simile is focused on the ecstatic side of the equation, and thereby obscures an important point.  The familiarity of this thing I’ve done thousands of times for so many years is soothing beyond any flavor of pharmacology or mindfulness.  The rituals of sterility, the silence, a team so skilled that everything feels effortless and telepathic, the immediate positive feedback of coming off the heart-lung machine with a better heart.  Outside my precious sanctuary the world is very different today.  There are no well-grooved curative routines to follow, no one knows how to fix this thing, no one knows how it will come out.  The aircraft carrier commander is propped up by a skilled and disciplined crew, sophisticated and proven technology, pinpoint navigation, and hundreds of years of naval tradition.  That is where my facile simile breaks down—admiral and pilot have a great deal in common.  Back here on land, everyone in the world is clamped in the same cold vise of unfamiliarity, social disconnection, uncertainty, and terror.  That only makes it more revelatory to see how everyone keeps carrying on.  People carry on coming to work, they carry on sheltering at home.  This dirty little strand of RNA with a bad haircut will be no match in the end.

Craig R. Smith, MD
Chair, Department of Surgery
Surgeon-in-Chief, NYP/CUIMC

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