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An ER doctor in Detroit shares lessons and unknowns about treating COVID-19

Grappling with a surge in critically ill patients, the lives of healthcare professionals in Michigan look very different than they did a few weeks ago. Detroit continues to be one of the nation's hotspots for COVID-19 cases and deaths, and Michigan has the third highest number of infections among all states.

Dr. Charlene Babcock practices emergency medicine at Ascension St. John in Detroit. She says when the virus first hit, the hospital had an influx of very sick patients. Since COVID-19 is a novel virus “the ideal way to manage these cases was essentially unknown,” according to Dr. Babcock.

On March 14, she shared a video that showed how to ventilate up to four patients with one ventilator. The video was widely circulated and the method she demonstrated has been used with COVID-19 patients in New York and Italy.


Fortunately, Babcock said, her hospital and others in Detroit haven’t had to use the method because there are enough ventilators in the area.

The method was developed by Dr. Babcock and a colleague back in 2006. They published a small study about it, which Babcock’s daughter brought up after hearing about the shortage of ventilators in Italy due to COVID-19. Babcock decided to make a video to share the findings of the study.

“That was the whole purpose of the video, to show that mechanically wise it can happen, you can ventilate more than one person on one ventilator. And that’s why I did the video, but then after that people ran with the idea” Babcock said and hopes doctors will improve upon the method she showcases.

One unexpected consequence that Babcock says she finds alarming is how few people are coming into the emergency room for things like strokes and heart attacks. She fears that people are having to deal with these emergencies at home for fear of catching COVID-19

“Other illnesses are still happening at the same rate,” she said. “I really think that people need to understand that the hospitals are very good at cohorting people who are infectious and keeping people safe, so that they don’t catch an infection if they come in.”

Babcock said that her hospital has started seeing a downturn in the number of COVID patients which “correlates with the flattening of the curve.” She, like many other experts, still encourages people to stay home but does acknowledge that it’s not easy.

“You don’t really appreciate how easy it is to go out and do stuff on a whim, just because you want” she said. “It has helped me appreciate the simple things like just getting together with your family that’s limited now.”

This post was written by Stateside production assistant Olive Scott.

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