Lillian Wirpsza ’04 is a nurse at George Washington University Hospital in Washington, D.C. She has spent a decade in the medical profession, with two years in oncology and the rest in cardiology, most recently in the cath lab. “We are available in case of an emergency—heart attacks, typically—but we usually handle elective procedures like pacemakers.”
While D.C. has not seen a large spike in Covid-19 cases yet, Ms. Wirpsza’s typical day has now shifted to preparedness. “Since all elective procedures have been canceled, we’ve been put into the general labor pool, to help with Covid cases.”
She has not handled a patient yet, but when she does she will be well-versed, as she also serves on the hospital’s ethics committee. It is a role she enjoys, despite the difficult choices her hospital may be forced to make. “We are mostly focusing on the allocation of resources and disaster preparedness right now, but we feel now is the calm before the storm.”
As part of her planning, Ms. Wirpsza is relating the pandemic to other disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina, as well as analyzing effective steps and, in some cases, learning from others’ mistakes.
“Italy was putting patients with mild cases in the hospital and we’ve learned that it caused a surge in cases, particularly for medical staff.” Other plans include “triaging based on the resources we have available, as well as maintaining staff and making sure they’re safe.” Additionally, George Washington is a teaching hospital, so plans include limiting the number of students who are visiting the facility.
The lack of personal protective equipment, or PPE, has been widely reported, but for Ms. Wirpsza, her hospital’s plan is to take a more proactive approach. “We’re keeping them under lock and key until they’re needed,” she explains.
While Ms. Wirpsza is concerned about patients and her colleagues, she also believes in silver linings. “As a nurse, I am a firm believer in preventive care and now really is a great opportunity for taking a look at yourself. If you’re borderline diabetic, it’s time to change your diet. We’re all adopting better hygiene and cleaning habits at home, and maybe even getting more exercise. That really is a good thing for society.”
Ms. Wirpsza is perhaps most hopeful about the post-Covid future of medicine. “There’s going to be a lot of good things that come out of this.” Some of the ways she thinks it will impact society and the future of medicine include eliminating red tape.
“This crisis is showing that we need to alleviate the bottlenecks in our supply chains to get things done. Things are going to move at a more rapid pace [in the future].” Another advancement that interests her is the growth of telemedicine. “It is going to really take off, going back to reserving hospitals for the critically needed.”
As for tips for others, Ms. Wirpsza shares, “Take care of yourself but know that it’s a learn and go situation and we’re all working with the resources we have. It’s a scary time and it’s understandable that people are scared, but they are not as helpless as they think they are.”