[6 MIN READ]
In this article:
Swedish clinicians recall the early days of COVID, including the very first cases at system hospitals.
The pandemic, while challenging and painful, also highlighted the community’s support and determination.
Swedish continues to learn and improve practices and treatment related to the virus.
This is the first in an occasional series that will appear on the Swedish blog over the next few months. We’ll hear from our leaders, caregivers and our community who will share their experiences of the pandemic, their thoughts on where we are now, and lessons learned that can help us shape the future.
The next several months are peppered with grim anniversaries of the COVID-19 pandemic, reminders of the razor-thin margin between life and death: Jan. 20, 2022, marked two years since the first case of COVID-19 was identified in Washington state — and in the United States. Feb. 6 is the second anniversary of the first American death from COVID-19, and March 11 will be two years since the World Health Organization declared the fast-moving outbreak of the novel coronavirus a pandemic.
Chris Dale, M.D., chief medical officer of acute care at Swedish, recalls those early days when the coronavirus was to the public at large little more than an illness affecting people halfway around the world. Many dismissed it as a severe cold, but caregivers and other public health experts were vigilant and making preparations.
“I remember thinking at the time, ‘And so it starts,’” says Dr. Dale. “We’d watched [the first patient treated at] Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett, and then we had the outbreak at the skilled nursing facility in Kirkland. We got out our Ebola playbook and started simulating what we would do.”
Those real-life scenarios would unfold at warp speed into a tidal wave of very sick patients needing critical levels of care.
Caring for a patient at Swedish Issaquah
“In the beginning, I think we understood the initial challenges that may come related to a high volume of patients needing care,” says Chris Beaudoin, chief executive of Swedish Ballard, Edmonds and Issaquah. “But I don’t think we understood the duration of the pandemic or the implications of dealing with wave after wave of infections.”
Because of its higher number of isolation rooms, Swedish Issaquah was the first hospital in our system to receive patients with COVID-19.
“Our first patients were transferred from other hospitals [around the region] and were incredibly sick. They were transferred directly to the intensive care unit (ICU) and needed mechanical ventilation,” says Beaudoin. “Quickly following that, we admitted additional patients to our ICU from our emergency department. We spiked to a census of seven patients in about 48 hours and continued to climb from there. It was a challenging time because we were still getting our incident command structure functioning effectively and we were struggling with [having enough] personal protective equipment (PPE).”
“Trust and communication have continually helped facilitate learning and problem solving. And that’s what we have been doing over and over again during the pandemic.”
— Chris Dale M.D., chief medical officer of acute care at Swedish
From there, the virus set on an explosive national trajectory. After its initial appearance in Washington state, it quickly throttled New York City before slithering into every corner of the country. Early 2020 — and the COVID-19 pandemic — plunged America into almost-incomprehensible tragedy, but one that has inarguably been flecked with golden moments of solidarity, support and evolution.
“The community support was amazing,” says Dr. Dale. “There were parades and banners and meals delivered. Everyone really pulled together.”
Notes of gratitude to caregivers at Swedish Edmonds
“We received a huge amount of support,” adds Chris Beaudoin. “We received so many PPE donations that we had to set up a formalized [intake and distribution] process. There were also lots of meals and letters and cards of thanks from our local community and from all over the country.”
Today, the new normal in every community is two cautious steps forward, one step back. Though we haven’t conquered the virus, vaccines and research have brought us a long way very quickly, and many of today’s advances around COVID will be employed to fight disease in the future.
Dr. Dale believes we will move beyond the pandemic — and determination and cooperation will get us there.
Caregivers at Swedish Edmonds COVID-19 testing site
“The anthropologist Margaret Mead said, ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has,’” says Dr. Dale. “I’d say the same is true of weathering a storm together as an organization: trust and communication have continually helped facilitate learning and problem solving. And that’s what we have been doing over and over again during the pandemic. And it applies to life outside of COVID, too, whenever we get back to it.”
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