Caring for COVID-19 patients, working with medical trainees, and keeping up with the latest research are all in a day’s work for Dr. Kanta Velamuri.
Dr. Velamuri is an associate professor and attending physician in the section of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. Based at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center, Dr. Velamuri has been directly involved in the care of patients with COVID-19 since March 2020.
While on pulmonary service, she is responsible for consulting on patients with COVID who are moderately ill and requiring additional oxygen therapy. And as a critical care physician, she cares for the most critically ill patients with COVID – those who require ventilators and high levels of support.
Dr. Velamuri discusses her experience as a physician during the pandemic, how it has impacted her, and what gives her hope in the following Q&A.
Q: What is a typical day like for you?
A: It varies based on what service I am assigned to that week. On the ICU service, a typical work day starts at 7 a.m. with checkout from the night team and reviewing of overnight events. After reviewing labs and imaging on patients, I round with the ICU team, which consists of our excellent housestaff from various residency and fellowship training programs, stellar nurses, respiratory therapists, pharmacists and others.
Rounds on COVID patients take longer because of the strict protocols we follow with PPE and decontamination. After rounds (and sometimes in between rounds), we perform required procedures on the patients, discuss recommendations with consultants and talk to patients’ families. At the height of previous surges, we had multiple attendings on service at a time to deal with the COVID and non-COVID ICU patients 24/7.
On the pulmonary service, days consist of evaluating and giving recommendations on many hospitalized patients both with COVID and other pulmonary disorders, as well as evaluating outpatients with urgent pulmonary disorders.
Q: How has the pandemic impacted you as a physician?
A: The COVID pandemic has definitely impacted me both as a physician and a person. As a physician, it has made me re-think the value and justification of some things that were routine in the past and made me pay more attention to resource utilization and improving efficiency.
Keeping up with the new literature to provide the best evidence-based medicine for patients is important to fit in to an already busy day. Trying to counter disinformation and provide guidance to family and community is also an important job.
On a personal level, it is stressful to think that by doing my job, I may be putting my family at risk. It made me realize what I value, and what is nice to have but not necessary. I have had many people I know personally be affected with the disease, including a few deaths and long-term sufferers.
On a positive note, it has allowed me the opportunity to perform some of my work in a virtual setting and work from home occasionally (which my dogs really appreciate).
Q: How have you and the healthcare team been coping with the surges?
A: During the surges, we have more of our team taking care of patients. We must be on the ICU rotation more often and this puts a burden on the healthcare team and our families. My husband and children have been superstars in coping with this. In between surges we get some time to rest a little and catch up with all the other medical and academic work.
The healthcare team is strong and resilient, but this pandemic has been taxing for healthcare workers across the country.
Q: Where do we stand currently with the pandemic, from your perspective?
A: We have made much progress in the last six months due to the tireless work of frontline providers, scientists and responsible citizens. A lot of the mortality associated with COVID-19 is not only due to the disease itself, but also due to not having enough resources during surges. Following the guidelines of masking, distancing, and limiting group meetings gives healthcare workers a chance to do their best to take care of patients and save their lives.
Q: Is there anything you appreciate more now due to the pandemic?
A: Seeing smiles on people’s faces.
Q: What gives you hope?
A: The youth in the next generation. The attitude and thoughts of my teenage children and others like them throughout the pandemic and other issues affecting us, has been inspirational.
Q: As vaccinations roll out in the U.S., is there anything you want the public to know?
A: Vaccinations are the biggest boon to tackle infectious diseases like COVID. We have seen this many times in the past and have been able to control and even eradicate major diseases through vaccinations. Get your shot as soon as you are eligible and it is available to you.
Until vaccinations can reach enough of the population to protect as all, we must continue to think about and care for others in our community. Reach out to those around you and help. Check on them to see if you can help ease the economic, social and health burden of this pandemic.
-By Nicole Blanton