Surgeons fix things. That’s what we do. We take patients broken from trauma, cancer, end stage organ disease or a myriad of other problems, we cut, and most of the time we cure. We are in a profession of action. So, what happens when we are called to the opposite; when we are asked to sit on the sidelines of our hospitals; when we are asked to cancel cases rather than ramp up surgical volume?
Part of the national response to the COVID-19 pandemic is a call to halt all elective and non-urgent surgical procedures in order to preserve hospital capacity, personnel and equipment for a potential surge of COVID-19 patients. In many areas, such as my home city of Dallas, this is not merely a suggestion, but a legal mandate. All over the country, surgical volume is dropping and surgeons are putting many, if not all, cases on hold. Acute care, critical care, trauma and other urgent and emergent surgical practices continue.
While this is a good start, we can do more. And we can do more by “doing” less. My plea to each and every surgeon who is not performing urgent or emergent cases or redeployed to help medical and emergency room colleagues in this unprecedented time is to resist the urge. Resist the urge to go into the hospital to see your patients if someone else who is already there can see them for you. Resist the urge to do group rounds. Instead, designate one provider to round on a weekly basis to decrease the use of personal protective equipment and the risk of exposure to COVID-19. You can group round via teleconference. Resist the urge to physically see patients in clinic unless they need an intervention or exam that cannot be done via video visit. Resist the urge to go to the office to get work done. Find a space in your home where you can create an environment amendable to continuing your work while maintaining social distancing.
Resist the urge to do and to show up. Embrace the discomfort of sitting on the sidelines, staying at home and having meetings over video-conferencing platforms. Because those of us on the sidelines today may be called in as reinforcements tomorrow. We have the drive, skills and expertise to take the reins of patient management if our front-line medical and surgical colleagues become overwhelmed or even worse, infected. But we cannot do so if we ourselves are infected or quarantined because of exposure to COVID-19. All signals point to this pandemic as a marathon, not a sprint. We have an obligation to our patients and our institutions to do what is best for the long-term management of this pandemic. For now, that means some of us must do our part by staying home and staying healthy so that we are available to continue taking care of patients when the call comes. For those of you who have already been redeployed, we thank you for the essential work you are doing.