COVID-19 Updates from Dr. Smith: 7/2/20

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,

Some of my readers will remember that I anonymously quoted “one of my regular OR nurses” (repeated below) in my May 6 Update. Her anonymity matters less now. Renee French died suddenly and unexpectedly at home on May 19. I didn’t know her fascinating back story. To me, she was a great OR nurse. I was asked to say a few words (below) at her memorial service today.

During the worst of our Covid surge, Renee French was one of a large number of OR and PACU nurses thrown into the ORICUs, supported by a few skilled ICU nurses and a host of MDs with various levels of expertise. Renee and her colleagues were asked to do things they had never been trained to do, overnight. They learned fast, under appalling conditions, and saved many lives. Renee caught the coronavirus but returned to work two weeks later. Renee sent me a few emails during the crisis. They ranged from practical through affirming to celebratory, with pictures of thumbs-up patients leaving the ICU, or fields of Antelope Valley wildflowers. In her own words: “It is truly amazing what has been done in the ORICU - I am simply blown away by the teamwork….These last few weeks have been life-altering. I wish I had not missed two of them while out ill.” She ended by quoting Bob Marley: "You never know how strong you are, until being strong is the only choice you have."

On Sunday, May 24, the New York Times attempted to list each of the 100,000 people who had died of Covid-19, beginning on a front-page entirely filled with fine print. An endearing feature of the Times 100,000 list was their attempt to capture in a few words something indelible about each person. Not an easy task. According to an unproven legend, Ernest Hemingway was having lunch with writer friends at the Algonquin, and bet each $10 that he could tell a whole story in 6 words. He scooped up the money after passing around a napkin on which he’d written “For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.” The Times didn’t do badly, no doubt with plenty of help from family and friends. Matching Hemingway’s 6 words is “Retiree determined to spoil her granddaughter.” My 4-word favorite is “Could make anything grow.” “One-man army” excels in 3 words. Measured by impact per word, nothing matches “New father,” describing a 22-year-old Oklahoman. Such poignancy obscures how many names were kept off that list by the bravery and resourcefulness of most of you listening today. You helped 80% of our admitted patients survive. Renee French was one of you.  At this memorial service, Hemingway could have said “Renee put others ahead of herself.” We can remember that.

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

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