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Physician Talks About Support Systems, the Future, and Helping Families Make Tough Decisions

Zoeb Bootwala, MD
American Board of Internal Medicine
Specialty: Internal Medicine

“COVID-19 is an incredibly cruel disease—not only does it devastate the body, but its highly contagious nature keeps families from being at their loved ones’ sides in those final hours,” said Zoeb Bootwala, MD, a hospitalist from Georgia. “This social and physical distance has made it even more difficult for families to confidently make timely and compassionate end-of-life decisions for their loved ones.”

Helping Families Make Tough Decisions
Dr. Bootwala recalls a very sick patient, a man in his 70s, who was on a ventilator and dying from COVID-19. Due to the risk of infection, no visitors were allowed in the hospital. The patient’s wife of nearly 50 years and their four adult children could not visit him, gauge his condition for themselves, talk to him, or even hold his hand. They did the next best thing: they talked often with Dr. Bootwala. At all hours of the day, he had phone calls with various members of the family, sharing the same information again and again.

“It took a lot of time and was emotionally overwhelming to have the same conversation with five different, but equally distraught, family members. However, it was critically important that each of them had the information they needed to participate in decisions about their loved one’s care. I was able to reassure them that he was not truly alone, that our team was taking good, compassionate care of him.”

Before COVID-19, Dr. Bootwala would find himself having this type of end-of-life discussion with families once every few weeks. During his hospital’s first COVID surge in the spring, he found himself having them at least a couple of times a day.

Support Systems
Long hours fighting an unknown enemy can take its toll on medical professionals. Dr. Bootwala urges them to seek information and support when they need it. “I was able to frequently check in with my best friend, a Chicago-area pulmonologist, and talk about the latest thinking on this virus,” said Dr. Bootwala. “I also found the web site of COVID-19 resources that the Medical Association of Georgia created to be very helpful, as well.”

Dr. Bootwala also sought out professional and emotional support online. “There is a surprising amount of support groups for physicians on Facebook, so I joined a couple that turned out to be terrific. We exchanged COVID treatment ideas and tips on taking better care of ourselves,“ he said.

But the very best support system is his family, including his wife, three-year old daughter, and 71-year old father. “The best way I decompress after a tough day is spending time with my family.”

The Future
Dr. Bootwala is optimistic about the future, provided the majority of people do what is best for community health. “Because Georgia was one of the first states to ‘re-open,’ we are seeing a significant uptick in patients with CVID-19 right now. To beat this virus, we all need to follow the science and follow commonsense rules, like staying home, wearing masks, and trying to live healthier lives with better diets and more exercise.”

Certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine, Dr. Bootwala is a hospitalist and serves as the Interim Medical Director of the Hospitalists Program at Houston Medical Center in Warner Robins, Georgia, approximately 100 miles south of Atlanta. To learn more about Dr. Bootwala’s experience on the COVID-19 front lines, view his “Top Docs” interview by the Medical Association of Georgia.

(Published: August 6, 2020)

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