Supporting the Surge
By Michelle Choate and Katie Sigeti ’06 philanthropy manager, alumni programs
Sarah Kaslow ’05 shares her experience caring for patients with COVID-19 with the Surgical COVID Service as a surgical resident at New York University.
The COVID-19 pandemic has posed one of the toughest challenges in human history for doctors in critical care units. The challenges of caring for patients who are in dire straits, suffering from a virus that continues to confound medical experts, can be demoralizing and overwhelming. But, ever true to their Hippocratic Oath, doctors all over the world ran toward the problem to provide the best standard of care to their patients.
As a surgical resident at New York University, Sarah Kaslow ’05 initially found herself far away from the maddening fray when the surge first hit New York City. With most surgeries canceled, she and her colleagues had clear schedules while doctors on the medical side were being overrun. But that inequity did not last long. Within three weeks, the entire hospital had been physically and operationally restructured to accommodate the influx of COVID-19 patients. “I went from assisting with operations and caring for postoperative patients to treating COVID patients and placing arterial lines or central lines for dialysis in the intensive care units,” says Kaslow.
During the busiest of times, Kaslow took care of patients with COVID-19 with the Surgical COVID Service, which was staffed entirely by the Department of Surgery. “COVID has brought so much human suffering in its wake,” she says. “It has humbled the most experienced of physicians and puzzled even the most astute clinicians. To feel such impotence in the face of human suffering challenges all of us in medicine. Every day I spoke to family members who were confused, scared and worried about their loved ones who were struggling without them. Often the only reassurance I could provide them was that we were working our hardest.”
Kaslow admits this is the hardest she has ever worked in her life. However, it is work that has been empowering and which reinforced her decision to become a doctor. She credits her experience at LJCDS with helping guide her during this particularly demanding time. “The school cultivated a sense of service and a desire to make the world we live in a little better,” she explains. “Part of the reason I’m here and keep pushing is because of that ethos of service that was passed on to me.”
Post-surge, Kaslow has taken a commission in surgical research at Columbia University, a critical step in her ultimate goal of becoming an oncology surgeon. No matter how extensive her training is, how impressive her future career, it is her experience treating COVID-19 patients that she will carry with her for the rest of her life.
“It will end up being one of the most valuable training experiences for me because I learned how to adapt and be a doctor and care for patients,” shares Kaslow. “My patients and their families have expressed so much gratitude for the work that everyone in the healthcare community is doing. As one of my patients was being discharged home after over a week in the hospital on supplemental oxygen, she told the transporter, ‘That’s my doctor’ and pointed to me at the nurses’ station. The pride and gratitude in her voice was the biggest reward I could have asked for.”