An ICU Doctor’s Tales From the COVID-19 Front Lines

Zachary Dreyfuss tackles the difficult conversations with patients’ relatives

Dr. Zachary Dreyfuss’ work as a pulmonary and critical care physician in ICUs has put him squarely in the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

His job includes managing critically ill patients who are on ventilators and having conversations about care with families.

“A lot of the therapies I do can prolong someone’s life, but it in no way guarantees any quality of life, so I kind of help lead those conversations with families,” Dreyfuss said. “And what’s been really hard during the beginning part of this pandemic – really I’d say about 90% of it – has been having these conversations over the phone or over some form of video chat.

“Because of how contagious this disease is, we weren’t obviously having any visitors in the hospital,” he said. “We’re trying to protect the community, and at the same time, people didn’t see it that way, and it’s not that I was trying to keep people from seeing their loved ones, it was more, you know, this is a public health crisis.”

We’re all burned out for sure. So for me, it was just focusing on family and just focusing on just spending quality time.

Dr. Zachary Dreyfuss

He added that some COVID patients also tended to require resources like ventilators longer than health professionals see with other diseases.

“They were so sick, and they just wouldn’t get better – they wouldn’t get worse – but they would stay really, really sick for a long time, and, you know, the body can only stay critically ill for so long before something else fails or something else happens,” Dreyfuss said.

He said politicization has further complicated COVID response.

“I don’t care about politics; I just care about taking care of patients,” Dreyfuss said. “I’ll say, look, every single living president has gotten the vaccination … so it doesn’t matter about their party affiliation; they still got it. To me, it’s obviously not about politics.”

He said the job has been taxing physically and emotionally at times, but he gets through with support from his family. He and his wife, Joanna, were named among People Newspapers 20 Under 40 in 2020. She also works in healthcare in obstetrics/gynecology.

“You can’t show up with this job not ready to give 110%. It requires a lot mentally, emotionally,” Dreyfuss said. “People noticed that I was just drained and that I was just tired, but there’s no one else for this – such a special job, and so you just have to kind of push through.”

Part of coping is not bringing the work home, he said. “We’re all burned out for sure. So, for me, it was just focusing on family and just focusing on just spending quality time.”

Pandemic Made Personal: This is the second in a series we’re planning about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on families in our community. Share your story with us.

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Rachel Snyder

Rachel Snyder, deputy editor at People Newspapers, joined the staff in 2019, returning to her native Dallas-Fort Worth after starting her career at community newspapers in Oklahoma. One of her stories won first place in its category in the Oklahoma Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest in 2018. She’s a fan of puns and community journalism, not necessarily in that order. You can reach her at [email protected]

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