One of the true heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic is our 2018 graduate Ajit Rai, MD. Ten days ago, he left his private anesthesiology practice in Fresno, where elective surgery had ceased, and headed straight for New York City, the COVID epicenter, where there is desperate need for physician help.
Dr. Rai appears on a recent video clip from The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC, where he talked about the “full-blown crisis mode” in New York, the frightening resource depletion, and the critical need for more physicians and nurses to come and work.
“The time is now,” he said. “We need you!” Young physicians need to lead the charge, he believes, as older physicians are at higher risk of serious COVID complications.
Dr. Rai, an interventional pain specialist by training, now finds himself working as a critical care physician in a major New York teaching hospital managing 10 to 15 critically ill COVID patients at a time. He describes operating rooms and PACU bays converted to ICU care, with patients on OR ventilators because ICU ventilators are all in use.
Teams of physicians intubate patients – as many as 25 a day, Dr. Rai said – and make rounds placing lines. Nurses who ordinarily work in the OR and PACU are stepping up after crash-course training to function as ICU nurses.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) is in such short supply that each person is issued one N95 mask and expected to make it last for a week by wearing a regular surgical mask over it. “It’s not ideal,” Dr. Rai said drily.
For physicians who want to work, Dr. Rai said, any medical license is now valid across state lines, and emergency hospital credentialing can be accomplished in a day.
This not the first time Dr. Rai has headed toward danger rather than away from it. Last year, after he finished his fellowship training in New York, he worked for several months in Jordan with the nonprofit organization Doctors Without Borders, treating war-injured patients from Syria and Iraq.