Jarrod Cole has known he wanted to practice medicine since childhood, but he never expected his dream would take him to the front lines of a global pandemic. Since the outbreak of COVID19, Cole and his colleagues in New York City have worked tirelessly to deliver care to a city ravaged by the virus.
Cole earned his bachelor’s in sociology from the University of Kentucky in 2011 and graduated with his degree in physician assistant studies from the UK College of Health Sciences in 2016. He completed the majority of his clinical experiences and shadowing in New York City and decided to move there shortly after graduation.
Watching the virus devastate the city he loves has been heart-wrenching and continues to motivate Cole to educate the public about why all people must take the illness seriously.
“Right now, being a clinician in New York City feels similar to a soldier going to war,” Cole said. “We work 12-16 hour days. This virus is forcing us to rethink traditional methods and come up with new treatments quickly. It does not discriminate. It’s absolutely ruthless.”
“I watched our ICU fill to capacity in four days, all with confirmed COVID cases and more than half of those cases ventilator-dependent and in critical condition,” Cole continued. “We have more cases flowing into our step-down unit every day. This is not due to poor practice or transmission from patient to patient, as our hospital's policy to prevent transmission is top-notch. This is the pure unmitigated and exponential growth of this virus and its brutal impact on our more vulnerable populations.”
Cole’s new normal is one he would not wish on anyone. Each day he goes to work, comes home, decontaminates all his personal belongings and clothes, showers, eats, and tries to get some rest. Often his nights are restless and full of thoughts about the constant state of stress he and his coworkers endure.
“For almost four years, I have worked in cardiovascular (CT) open-heart surgery and the CT ICU surrounded by extremely sick and frail patients,” he said. “I have never felt the overwhelming sense of anxiety, fear and futility that I have felt while taking care of my COVID19 patients.”
Cole said one of the hardest parts of the job is maintaining composure due to the harrowing, emotional toll the virus has on health care workers and families of those affected.
“One of our daily tasks is calling families to update them about their loved ones since they are not allowed inside the hospitals,” he said. “Last week, I had to update a family more than six times about a patient’s condition and deliver the news that this patient may not make it.”
Cole and his colleagues continue to lean on one another each day the crisis unfolds. It’s this support system that keeps each person fighting the very real battle before them.
“The superheroes in the movies are imaginary. The true heroes in this unit are the people on my team: the tireless nurse aids, nurses, clerks, X-ray techs, PAs, residents, and attendings who enter the hospital walls each day with a sense of somber determination,” Cole said.
“In PA school, we are trained to be clinicians and to also maintain empathy and humanity to connect with our patients. I’m grateful to be a compassionate provider, and I will never lose my empathy, but we are all struggling,” Cole continued. “None of us will be the same or ‘normal’ after this; I don’t know how anyone in health care can be right now.”