Mark Rolfe, M.D., is a Lung Transplant and Critical Care Pulmonologist at INTEGRIS Baptist Medical Center. He says we are starting to see an increase in COVID-19 cases requiring hospitalization. Many of those end up in the intensive care unit, where he works.
“The first time I walked into the room of a patient known to have COVID-19, I paused at the door,” admits Rolfe. “I was a little frightened at facing this disease for the first time.”
It was the first case to be diagnosed at INTEGRIS Baptist, and Rolfe reveals it brought back memories from early on in his career. “I grew up in medicine at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic and remember the hysteria around that diagnosis and all the precautions people took to not catch it. We initially wore hazmat suits with those patients and put them in different wings of the hospital.”
He continues, “It feels like I am living those days from my medical school years all over again. This disease, unlike HIV, is very contagious though. A person can spend five to six minutes with someone who is infected and catch this disease.”
In Rolfe’s ICU, every patient there either has the virus or is considered high risk. But despite the apparent danger associated with COVID-19, Rolfe feels his unit is very safe. “We have developed protocols that protect us, and everyone is very careful,” he says. “I feel I am more likely to get this disease shopping at the grocery store than in my hospital or ICU.”
He further explains, “In the public, there are unknown asymptomatic carriers who are very contagious and just don’t know it. In the hospital, I know where the danger is, and I am prepared to deal with it safely.”
Rolfe understands the importance of his work. “We are doctors. We are supposed to take care of the ill to the best of our ability. It is a challenge, but it is also a calling. God gave us these gifts for a reason. It’s time to step into the breach and use them.”
But don’t call him a hero, he says that honor is reserved for America’s finest. “Doctors are not heroes. We are doing what we were trained to do. Generations of physicians have fought off diseases throughout the years. It is our legacy. It is why we are respected in this society. The efforts to fight this disease and help people through it is the price of that respect,” states Rolfe.
“The people who put on a uniform and protect our country are the heroes.
Masks, gloves and hand washing will stop a virus. Nothing stops a bullet, a missile, a grenade, or a knife. The police and military are our heroes.”
However, Rolfe does acknowledge that the novel coronavirus has completely altered life as we knew it. He says each one of us has the power to reclaim it, we just have to work together to do so. “It’s all been said before, but it is worth repeating – wash your hands, don’t touch your face, avoid crowds and stay home to stay safe. Do what you can now, so you don’t become one of my patients later.”