COVID Year- Dr. Gina Huhnke

Mar 14, 2021

Dr. Gina Huhnke receives one of the first doses of the coronavirus vaccine on December 16, 2020 at Deaconess Gateway.
Credit Steve Burger / File

Here is a COVID Year review from the Deaconess Hospital Emergency Department Medical Director.

 Here is a transcript of Dr. Huhnke's interview:

What do you remember of those very early days?

 0:00:04Dr. Huhnke:
Oh my goodness. Oh, I remember. I mean we were watching from afar what was happening in China and I think at that point it seemed like it was very far removed and we really didn't have good data around what was actually happening in China. I don't think it actually to us kind of felt like a threat and so until we saw it moving and then it hit Italy and we thought to ourselves. Oh We need to prepare because it's going to be here.

When would that have been approximately if you can recall what month what time frame?

 0:00:38Dr. Huhnke:
It was sometime in February. I do recall very specifically that at the very first week of March. We were at the point where we thought. Oh now it's getting too close. We really have to stand up incident command and be very prepared be on our A-game get the whole team moving and so I remember specifically On March 5th, we went to the executive administration team from a quality department and said at this point we believe this is inevitable. We want to be prepared. We believe the best way to do that is to stand up incident command and the very next day that happened.

What did it feel like it maybe that was the time but what did it feel like when you had that realization that your professional career was going to intersect so closely with something as horrible as a pandemic?

 0:01:37Dr. Huhnke:
Oh at that point. I don't think any of us realized how terrible it was going to be. We just thought it was probably going to be another infectious disease outbreak did we know at that point that I was going to be a nation wide spread pandemic, I don't think so. We were just more preparing for an influx of patients with an infectious disease at that point I don't think we realized it was going to be this huge pandemic which would span the course of a year plus.

At what point did you really make that realization? When did that hit you that it was going to be as bad as it was?

 0:02:13Dr. Huhnke:
It was probably sometime in the summer. I can't give you an exact date, but it was sometime in the summer when we realized this isn't going away as quickly as we wanted it to it's more severe and caused quite a bit of you know , espeically in bigger cities caused quite a bit of pandemonium as far as people not being able to go to work having shutdown c ommerce and businesses having to isolate, overwhelming hospitals. I think sometimes you know in the late spring early summer is when we started to realize that this isn't going to be two months and gone.

You have a perspective on this pandemic that very few people have That intimate knowledge of dealing with it 24 hours a day every day since it began. I wonder if you can try to put that into words for us. Can you help us understand what it was like?

 0:03:11Dr. Huhnke:
You know for one thing I saw in our patients and our community the great need to band together and help one another which was really terrific. I think that's what I saw very early on in the course actually recognizing health care workers as Heroes offering up support as far as some of our community partners actually making PPE changing their business practice to be able to- and their business model to be able to prepare us better, which was really great support really appreciate that. I think that's one of the first things that I noticed and then I noticed the healthcare team itself sort of band together and sort start to think about. Hey, this is a disease process that we don't know anything about Until they were scrambling every day trying to learn more and more about it trying to develop treatment protocols to make sure that patients were taking care of appropriately.

Take us inside the emergency room during COVID. If you can as much as you can during the pandemic?

 0:04:13Dr. Huhnke:
What we saw was that people who weren't critically ill were avoiding the emergency department and I think that was probably because they were scared even though we had treatment protocols and isolation protocols in place to keep them safe patients waited way too long, sometimes, to come to the emergency department.

How hard was it? Is there a single incident that you can remember that really portrays how difficult it was for you during the pandemic?

 0:04:43Dr. Huhnke:
So from the perspective of the emergency physicians, I think it was just difficult not knowing when you walk into a patient's room whether or not they were infected. And so we were constantly wearing PPE in the other rooms changing in and out of the PPE. Just trying to make sure that everyone was safe. Other than that the patient population. I mean we take care of critically ill critically injured patients every single day. So that part of it was not much of a change for us.

What's the main emotion that drives that memory of PPE?

 0:05:20Dr. Huhnke:
I think some of it is just the speed of having to take care of extremely ill and injured patients very quickly. And so that was an added layer of slowing you down and you wanted to rush into the room of without it.

Are there any changes that have occurred in medicine and health care that you think will stay after the pandemic?

 0:05:45Dr. Huhnke:
I'll probably somehow I mean look at how much providing social distancing washing your hands and wearing masks has had an impact on the influenza cases this winter we've seen basically zero influenza cases this winter and although it's not quite as severe or deadly as a coronavirus we pretty much did away with the whole disease process this winter. So do we think about in the next several seasons wearing masks during the winter and social distancing during the winnter to at least some degree to prevent other infectious diseases? We have also not seen other things that affect infants like RSV and croup those diseases have been practically eliminated from the community as well. So I think that'll be a practice that as seasonal variation illnesses as we take that into consideration that we might consider doing some of these things to prevent those types of conditions in the wintertime.