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“A patient may not be a COVID-19 patient one day, but you come back the next day and the patient is a PUI. That was the problem.”

IN THEIR OWN WORDS: Voices of the COVID-19 crisis

“A patient may not be a COVID-19 patient one day, but you come back the next day and the patient is a PUI. That was the problem.”

2 Minute Read

Kwame Bennam, RCP, RRT, is a respiratory therapist at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center. He spoke with TMC News on April 15, 2020.

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I’m the guy they call on if there’s any respiratory issue. I am the clinical practice leader that is in charge of the neuroscience service line. We have all these service lines, and I am the advanced practice person that is the liaison between the doctors and the bedside therapist. Any high level, advanced vent settings that a regular therapist usually is struggling with, I’m the guy they contact.

We go into the patient’s room when they are a person under investigation (PUI) for COVID-19, then we swab them and walk the whole sample to the lab. It’s been challenging—I’ll be frank. There was so much uncertainty surrounding COVID-19. The reason is, when it came out, we all didn’t know what we would be dealing with. Everybody’s like, ‘It’s not going to be in Texas. Everything is going to blow over.’ When we found out that the respiratory team was going to be the one actually doing the testing, I thought, ‘Whoa, wait a minute. We’re going to be put on the front line?’

But it’s a respiratory disease. Our boss put that responsibility on us, knowing what we’re capable of. We are able to go deep into the patient’s nostrils and get the sample, and not be scared of it because we deal with that every day. On a regular basis, we go into a patient’s nose, get samples, get sputum and send it to the lab for testing. This is pretty much what I deal with all the time.

My wife and I watch the news a lot. It was what happened in New York that woke me up. And I’m asking myself, ‘What if this happened in Houston?’

Then on March 24, there was a patient in a bed in the neuro ICU. He came to the hospital three days before, but he was not a COVID-19 patient. All of a sudden, when I came back Monday, the patient was in isolation as a PUI. I’m thinking, ‘What happened? How?’

A patient may not be a COVID-19 patient one day, but you come back the next day and the patient is a PUI. That was the problem.

I really struggled with that that day. Knowing that I took this patient to CT [a CT scan provides details about internal organs], stayed with this patient without a gown, mask or anything and to find out that the patient is a PUI, it was really challenging. That’s when I realized, ‘Wow, we’re really dealing with something that is very strange.’

Everybody could be a PUI.

You start to think, ‘Who are the patients that I’ve seen in the past that could be PUI?’ Everybody is concerned. You go to every unit and everybody’s talking about COVID-19. There is no other conversation in the hospital, other than COVID-19.

It really makes you panic, and it brings a lot of depression and uncertainty. But at the same time, just knowing that I work for Memorial Hermann and knowing all that they’ve done to help stabilize and neutralize the situation, gives me that hope to wake up every day and go to work.

To know that we are able to do our part is really rewarding.

— Kwame Bennam, as told to TMC News columnist and writer Shanley Pierce

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