Dan Herron, MD shares insights with Dana Telem, MD on lessons learned from COVID-19
Fear, anxiety and uncertainty has dominated the first half of 2020. Never before have we, as healthcare providers, been asked to do so much with so little—whether it’s resources like personal protective equipment, dusting off skills related to critical care, or just sheltering at home waiting to get back to “business as usual”. The chaos, however, has also borne unprecedented opportunity to rethink how we deliver clinical care and how we take care of ourselves and others. As is human nature, we will rise above this and emerge with positive lessons on how we rebuild at a personal, organizational and societal level. In the spirit of positive lessons learned from this pandemic, I had the opportunity to virtually (as is our new world) sit down with Dan Herron, MD, of The Mount Sinai Hospital, to gain insights on his experience and what lessons he has learned from the pandemic.
Like many surgeons at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, Dan was deployed to work for several weeks at affiliated hospitals that were especially hard hit by the COVID crisis. In the ED and MICU at Mount Sinai Brooklyn, Dan worked alongside his MIS/Bariatric fellow, Dr. Ben Schwab, and several other members of a COVID squad, including a vascular surgeon, nurse practitioner and two medical assistants. The squad assisted with emergency and critical care, patient transfers, and everything else that needed doing at the overwhelmed community hospital.
In speaking with Dan, my initial questions were simple and direct: What has this experience taught you about the way we deliver care? What do you hope will stick, professionally and personally, as we emerge from this crisis? And, how has this experience changed you for the better? What ensued however, was an incredibly rich discussion about the common thread that tied all of his answers together – “slowing down and taking time to find joy in the little things we took for granted.” Dan spoke of the simple pleasures he now takes in talking to a colleague in the hallway, the enjoyment of his once empty nest now full with children and cats, and even the pleasure of calling his mother. A once routine task.
One story in particular really highlighted this sentiment. As hospitals start ramping up the ability to do elective surgery, Dan recounted his joy in the ability to resume scheduled surgery. One of his first cases was a donor nephrectomy. A stressful high stakes operation at baseline, one can only imagine the increased pressures of doing this operation during the time of COVID. Concerns of exposure and possible infection for both the donor and recipient were not lost on the surgical care team. Following a collaborative, multi-disciplinary discussion, the decision was made to extubate and recover the patient in the operating room. What struck me was not so much how a team came together around patient safety, but more the joy in Dan’s voice as he described the time period while the patient recovered. The opportunity for the surgeons, operating room nurses, technicians and anesthesiologists to slow down, talk and enjoy being in each other’s presence. A sense of community and togetherness that has been absent from many of our lives these past few months.
As we emerge from this pandemic, the lesson that Dan would like to impart to all of us is a new appreciation for the gift of time. A new lens on things that were routine in our normal workflow or home lives. The opportunity to reconnect with one another professionally and personally. And the importance of “slowing down” and expressing gratitude for our friends, family and colleagues.
Dan Herron is a Professor of Surgery, Chief of Laparoscopic and Bariatric Surgery and the Director of the Laparoscopic Surgery Fellowship program at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. His experience in New York during this unprecedented time was recently featured in New York Magazine and speaks to his fortitude, flexibility and willingness to serve.