This Baylor Alumni Spotlight is part of a 2020 series featuring alumni who were working on the front lines of the COVID-19 response.
Orhue is an internal medicine physician currently serving her patients in the Houston area. In the coming weeks, she will rotate onto a team caring for her institution’s COVID-19 patients. She paused one Friday morning to speak with her alma mater about what patient care looks like during this pandemic.
Q: How has it been to work as a physician in a hospital setting during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic? How has it affected you as you work to give your patients the care they need while also dealing with the added stresses or concerns you’re facing?
A: "It's been a bit of an alternate reality. I think that obviously, as a physician, inherently there is risk associated with what we do. But to be in a setting where you fully understand that that risk is now heightened and disproportionate to what the typical risk you would face is, it's humbling.
And it's been a huge learning experience. From an institutional standpoint, people definitely rallied together to get a plan in place, especially with wearing (Personal Protective Equipment) and protection of the staff as well as our patients. At whichever hospital that you go to, there are certain measures that have been instituted in regard to patient safety – visitation measures or limiting the number of visitors that people can have. That's hard for our patients, that's hard for their family members to not be able to be at the bedside of their loved ones at a time when they need them most. And it's hard as a physician to say, we hear you and we understand your concerns and, yes, we really wish that you could be here with your loved ones, but we have to protect them. They're a vulnerable population, but we also have to protect you as you are coming into a setting where we do have patients with COVID, and we do want to make sure that we protect our community as well. So, it's a weird place to be and a weird balance.
I think that the general physician's disposition is to jump in and to want to (fix things). But it does take its toll. I think of friends and colleagues who also work in the healthcare setting and who haven't been able to go home to see their loved ones because they're concerned about transmission. We know people who have vulnerable populations at home, whether they live with an older person and they're like me, taking care of patients who, even if they don’t have COVID, they are at an increased risk of transmission."
Q: How does that affect you, that risk of transmission - is that mentally exhausting to think about the risks?
A: "Even though right now I am not working with COVID patients, we do understand that there's a lot of asymptomatic transmission that is happening and there's a lot more risk than what meets the eye. But you also can't walk around, especially as a doctor, being paranoid about everything. You do have a job to do, and we do have a duty to society and our community, as well, so having to balance that out and still care for people … just ends up being a bit of a tightrope."
Q: What have you seen in the response of the medical community to these challenges?
A: "It's been encouraging for multiple reasons. To see that they are providing excellent care for patients, but, also, to see that they're doing well. They're healthy. They're upbeat. They're not burned out in the care of their patients. They are protected and definitely supported institutionally and by the rest of their colleagues. It's been actually more of a positive experience to be able to see how that situation is handled... I think it's been an encouraging experience."
Q: How do you think your time at Baylor prepared you...
(Laughs) "How did my time at Baylor prepare me for a pandemic?"
(Laughs) Right, for a pandemic?
A: "I think I can rephrase that as, did my time at Baylor prepare me for uncertainty in life? And I would say yes to that.
A lot of spiritual growth happened while I was at Baylor. Being able to have something outside of myself to serve as a lens through which to view the world has helped me personally in terms of being a Christian and having a relationship with God.
Maybe this is a luxury or privilege -- I understand that perhaps if I was very ill or if I had multiple comorbid conditions, maybe my view would be different. But for me, I haven't had a lot of the fear and anxiety that I know a lot of the population is facing right now because, ultimately, when I look at scripture, calamities and uncertainties did not start today. But our response to calamity definitely is one that we can control. I can have my plan, and we can have our plans, and the world can plan all sorts of things, but ultimately there is a large chunk of life that is completely outside of our control.
In that regard, I would say yes. Ultimately my approach to uncertainty extends from my faith."