Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
NPR Health

Medical School Graduate Shares Her Experience Of Caring For Coronavirus Patients

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Six weeks ago back on April 2, we introduced you to Gabrielle Mayer, a student at NYU's Grossman School of Medicine. Mayer had decided to take the school up on an offer to graduate several months early so she could start caring for patients sick with COVID-19.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GABRIELLE MAYER: This is part of what brought me into health care, the desire to be of use to help a community in need, especially the community that I grew up in as a native New Yorker.

KELLY: When we met her in April, Mayer was about to become Dr. Mayer and about to start working at Bellevue Hospital in New York. Dr. Mayer, great to speak with you again.

MAYER: Thank you for having me back.

KELLY: So tell me about the work these last six weeks. What have you been doing? What have you learned?

MAYER: It's a watershed moment for any doctor to be entering the hospital and learning what that role is like for the first time; I think more so to do so during a pandemic. But it was - I'm now wrapping up my fifth week on the wards and my six week total of this early graduation deployment. And it's been full of learning, full of I think inspiration seeing the medical community as a whole rally around the patients who needed us the most and also full of a real sense of respect for the ways in which this virus can impact communities at large.

KELLY: I'm also imagining it's been hard and scary at points. What's been the toughest thing?

MAYER: The toughest thing for me has been watching families be unable to come into the hospital and be with their loved ones in the ways that we're usually accustomed to. I've been spending a lot of time on the phone with a lot of family members, trying to give daily updates. But I know that my calls, even if well-intentioned, can't replace the feeling of holding your mother's hand as she goes through a large illness or a big moment in her life with her health. And so I'm aware of the ways in which the suffering isn't always just physical. There's also a component of it that is emotional.

KELLY: You sound determined and - cheerful's the wrong word, but you sound very positive about what has been, I'm sure, a very difficult experience.

MAYER: I think, you know, what's been interesting has been the level of anticipation I had going in. We were at a point during the sort of natural history of this pandemic that, when I went in, things were very saturated in the hospital system in New York City. And in my first two weeks there, I saw the immense power that curve-flattening measures and social distancing can have. And what I saw was the number of patients who were COVID positive and coming in for COVID-related complications went down drastically. And so I witnessed in a very palpable way the ways in which what my city did, what my community did to stay home and be conscious of the contact they had with others could make a big difference in the hospital. And that was, I think, very heartening for me, even amidst I think a very challenging set of patient cases as, you know, people grappled with this very serious virus.

KELLY: Yeah. Have you lost any of the patients you were caring for?

MAYER: I have lost some, yes, though some great stories as well of success, so it's definitely been a mixed bag.

KELLY: I know you - probably there are privacy rules that mean you can't discuss a specific patient, but I do wonder in these first, you know, six weeks of practicing medicine, is there a particular case or a particular patient who will stick with you?

MAYER: One thing I remember very clearly, this person - I got the person a phone charger after three weeks of being in the hospital. And that person was able to call their family on their cellphone for the first time in a very long time. I remember barely knowing this person and this person having tears in their eyes and thanking me so profusely for what I felt like was just a minor act. And I think it made me really remember the importance of these human moments of connection and how even as the medical challenges overwhelm us, it's so important to remember that seeing someone for their humanity is just as important.

KELLY: And that it's the little things that can make a difference in the life of a patient and how they feel about the world.

MAYER: Absolutely.

KELLY: Dr. Mayer, thank you so much.

MAYER: Of course. My pleasure.

KELLY: That is Dr. Gabrielle Mayer. She is six weeks into practicing medicine, treating COVID-19 patients at Bellevue Hospital in New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.