Temporarily Sidelined by the Coronavirus, an Emergency Physician Provides a Different Type of Care on the COVID-19 Front Lines
Ramon W. Johnson, MD, FACEP, FAAP
American Board of Emergency Medicine
Specialty: Emergency Medicine
American Board of Pediatrics
“The two weeks I spent in self-quarantine were almost unbearable,” said Ramon W. Johnson, MD, an emergency medicine physician from Mission Viejo, California. “I felt like I was letting my colleagues and patients down by not being there to help.”
A physician for more than 35 years, Dr. Johnson contracted the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) virus early in the US pandemic, before his department’s comprehensive personal protective equipment (PPE) policy was finalized. He tested positive one week after symptom onset but, fortunately, had mild symptoms.
Meeting Patients Where They Are
While he was in quarantine at home, Dr. Johnson continued to work with patients as part of his hospital’s telemedicine follow-up project. Instead of caring for patients in the emergency department, he spent his days calling and talking with patients who had tested positive for COVID-19 at his hospital. He listened to their uncertainty and fears and provided medical counsel. “I had several good conversations with one particular patient on the phone and he appeared to slowly be getting better. When I was able to return to work, my heart dropped when I saw his name on the patient list. Although he was not clinically ill enough to warrant admission, he was feeling terrible and his chest x-ray showed worsening pneumonia. I immediately headed over to meet him in person. Even in his suffering, he thanked me for having been there to support him when he was at home and scared. It was a good reminder that patients need us, even if they are not right there, in front of us.”
To potentially help others who are facing COVID-19, Dr. Johnson donated his blood plasma. It is hoped that antibodies in blood plasma from patients who have fully recovered from COVID-19 can serve as the basis for a treatment for this life-threatening disease.
Danger on the Front Lines
“When I realize how ill I or my family could have become, it makes me pause and think about the career that I have enjoyed for many years,” said Dr. Johnson. “I have always accepted the inherent low-level danger of working in the emergency department, but I never imagined I could bring this type of deadly risk back home to my family.”
Dr. Johnson has been involved in disaster planning for more than a decade, but a pandemic of this scale is concerning and reveals some major holes in our nation’s safety net. “I am concerned about our nation’s level of commitment and support for emergency workers on the front lines, from hospital capacity to PPE. My son is following in my footsteps as an emergency physician, and I worry that he could be putting his life on the line if things quickly do not change for the better.”
Certified by the American Board of Emergency Medicine (ABEM) and the American Board of Pediatrics (ABP), Dr. Johnson serves as an emergency medicine physician at Mission Hospital Mission Viejo, one of the busiest designated adult and pediatric Level II Trauma Centers in the state of California. He serves on the Board of Directors for the ABEM.
(Published: June 12, 2020)
Read more stories from the COVID-19 front lines.