Litchfield County: Happening in the Hills
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Heroes
Ryan Lavine

The Heroes on Our Front Line

Stepping up, day in and day out    

“Once we started seeing the first truly ill, critically ill patients with COVID-19, it was clear that this is a very distinct illness.”

Dr. Eric Salk, a 23-year veteran physician in the Emergency Department at Charlotte Hungerford Hospital, squeezed in a walk with us this spring during the first wave of the COVID-19 crisis. Birds obliviously chirp in the background as he relayed the bottom-line difficulty of the new disease: “It’s actually very frustrating for health care workers, because there is so little we can do, except supportive care.”

Unlike the accounts of overrun floors and borderline chaos in New York City hospitals during that time, Dr. Salk says the situation in Torrington was more of a slog. The volume of emergency room patients was down, but the intensity of those patients’ conditions was markedly up. “It’s scary because, at one end of the spectrum people get very sick. We’re constantly having to make decisions about the level of precautions to use, trying to be judicious about the use of personal protective equipment (PPE)…every machine has to be wiped down between scans.”

On that all-important point of personal protective equipment, Charlotte Hungerford was fortunate. Officials say its connection to the Hartford HealthCare system afforded it access to a stockpile of PPE originally acquired for the Ebola outbreak. Having that PPE, however, hasn’t made for smooth sailing.

“It’s physically tiring…when you’re in full masks and face shields, and full gowns and gloves,” adds Teresa Fuller, VP of Patient CareServices at Charlotte Hungerford,  “You’re tired, you’re hot…it’s more difficult to care for patients.”

On top of it all, her staff can’t leave the crushing sadness or new-level stress of their jobs at work. “It’s extra challenging because of all the worry and because life is not really the same when you go home. You’re not able to do the things that you were once able to.” 

eric salk
Dr. Eric Salk

Case in point, Dr. Salk. A friend let him borrow a guest house so that he wouldn’t run the risk of infecting his family. When he does visit home, he is sterilized to the hilt, and masked. His free time is spent consuming the latest treatment information, making it “pretty nerve-wracking, but at the same time fascinating.”

While he does his part, Dr. Salk is quick to turn the mirror and acknowledge the entire community’s efforts, “The self-isolating, and self-distancing, it IS effective. It may not seem like it, but everybody’s doing their part. Our community here in Torrington and the surrounding towns has been phenomenal. The various restaurants in our area have delivered food every single day, for every single meal, to our staff.” 

“The donations from the community have been extraordinary,” added Brian Mattiello, VP for Strategy and Community Development at Charlotte Hungerford. Mattiello took in hundreds of homemade 3-D printer face shields, gowns, handmade cloth masks, and thousands of surgical masks from schools, vendors, and private citizens. He also witnessed the steady stream of well-wishes written to frontline workers. “Born and raised here. I’ve known this place all my life and have fallen in love with it all over again. It’s a pretty special community.“

Written by Brandee Coleman Gilmore

 

 

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