Wednesday, December 16, 2020

When the doctor becomes the patient

Dr. Roy Werner (photo for the Sun-Times by Ashlee Rezin Garcia) 

     Paul Kalanithi’s 2016 posthumous memoir “When Breath Becomes Air” was a big best-seller for obvious reasons. Here was a brilliant neurosurgeon facing terminal lung cancer, grappling with death at a young age.
     It also served up one of those prince-and-the-pauper role reversals that capture the public’s imagination. The bold, resourceful doctor becomes the fearful, helpless patient, perched on an examining table in a thin cotton gown, awaiting his fate. The proud made humble.
     When I was writing Monday’s column on how hospitals are faring at this point in the COVID-19 epidemic, I came upon a digression too lengthy to fit in but too interesting to leave out.
     I was talking with Dr. Roy Werner, director of the department of emergency medicine at Roseland Community Hospital, about whether medical personnel are more at risk in the intensive care unit, masked and gowned and leaning over a COVID-19 patient on a ventilator, or sitting in their living room at home with their children traipsing in and out.
     “My family has been fantastically supportive,” said Werner, who lives in Huntley. “I have a wife who really gets it. We have two teenaged kids, and I’ve been able to explain it to them. I had COVID a few weeks ago, stayed in one room of the house, the kids did their own things.”
     I asked how the illness affected him.

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  1. He travels from Huntley to Roseland?
    Just how long does his commute take?

    1. Looks like 45 minutes, according to Google Maps. People do far worse.

    2. That's 45 minutes at 3:50 AM, when you went there to figure it out.
      What's the time during rush hour?
      Can you ask him?

    3. I would expect that the doctor sleeps over at the hospital often. Funny how these comments seem to gravitate on occasion away from the major theme of Neil's column/blog.


    4. I was thinking the same thing. Clark St.: I think a missing piece of information that I didn't include in the story might help: he's been on staff there three months. There's a lot of churn in medical professionals, particularly now. When you consider the two kids in high school, participating in sports, you'll perhaps see why he isn't moving to the Far South Side.

    5. I think it's reasonable to assume that Roseland needs doctors more than Loyola or other hospitals located closer to his home. Also, I think it's worth mentioning that his candor in discussing his own illness is praiseworthy.

    6. No reason to assume he’s traveling at rush hour. Medical professionals generally don’t work 9-5 shifts.

  2. Neil, I'm with you on doubling down on the precautions through the end of this thing. I don't want to be the last soldier to die before the armistice. It's going to be really difficult to convince people that this isn't over yet, and it won't be for many more months.

  3. I agree with Tate that the doctor's candor was admirable. I imagine he's a pretty admirable guy, regardless.

    Offering his speculation that the two possibilities that come to mind for how he got infected are a critically ill patient coughing directly into his face OR the fact that his kids play sports certainly puts the unnecessary, contraindicated sports experiments going on in this country in perspective. For me, anyhow. YMMV.

    "whether medical personnel are more at risk in the intensive care unit" I wonder how columnists and photographers -- say, you yourself, Neil and Ms. Garcia -- feel about whether it's significantly risky to report from such locations. Any opinion about that you'd care to share?


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