As the United States continues to fight COVID-19 at home and around the world, health care workers are at the front lines of the response. I recently spoke with Dr. Paul Lynch, an anesthesiologist— and a member of USGLC’s Arizona Advisory Committee— who traveled to New York City to offer his services at epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak: The Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan. While working at the hospital, he contracted COVID-19.
Dr. Lynch: I honestly felt like it was what I had to do. I was in New York City on 9/11, and I remember getting on the subway, going to Ground Zero and asking what I could do to help, and they said, “Nothing.” But what they were really saying was: “Everyone is dead.” I felt helpless. But in this moment— as a certified anesthesiologist— I had a skillset that could help.
On some of my shifts, ten or more people died. Codes were going off over and over, and sometimes we had numerous people dying at once. I felt the true force of humanity as families were not able to be with their loved ones— and it was like I was attending their funerals. I would walk in their room, hold their hands, and talk with them— about baseball, their kids, or their job— and had the chance to get to know them. Near the end of my time in the ICU, I did contract COVID-19, but I quarantined myself in New York City and am now back home with my family.
Dr. Lynch: This pandemic will hopefully help us all realize that viruses do not care about borders— they are going to spread. This shows us exactly why we need stronger investments in our diplomatic programs and global health security. By having stronger and more robust relationships and the proper infrastructures in place we could have mitigated the impact of this virus in the United States. But we can’t go backward— we can just go forward. Moving forward, it’s going to be important that the United States look at this pandemic not just as an American issue, but as a global issue. And the most vulnerable people are going to need our help. By helping our neighbors around the world, we are actually helping ourselves.
As a pain management doctor, we’ve been talking about the opioid epidemic for years. We started getting the attention of the medical community, but what we failed to realize was that we needed to take an international approach to solve the problem. We started changing how we did things in the United States and as our domestic health system started to change, we expected the numbers to start decreasing. But by only addressing the domestic concerns and ignoring the international realities, the problem only got worse here at home.
COVID-19 is just another example of why we have to work with the rest of the world to solve global health problems because even if we get it controlled in the United States, if we don’t address it around the world, our numbers will continue to increase.
Dr. Lynch: I recently read Governor Bobby Jindal’s book Leadership and Crisis, and in the book he says that one thing leaders do is “lead from the front.” I think that is a perfect analogy for our country. What I felt on September 11th was an overwhelming amount of fear. I pictured this great chaotic scene and figured I could help; it was one of the biggest traumas of that experience— the reality of helplessness. But here in the time of coronavirus, we do have the ability to help— and by helping, we are actually saving ourselves.
We need to lead from the front and attack the enemy head on, and we need to think about this global crisis as just that: a global crisis. Eventually this virus will have another wave – a second, and a third— and the things we do to help protect the rest of the world will eventually be what saves us. We are not just one country anymore— we live in a global economy, a global network. And the reality is: what affects the rest of the world affects us. We know that in today’s interconnected world, it only takes 36 hours for a pathogen to spread around the globe. We have to lead from the front and attack the enemy head-on, not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s what we need to do to keep us safe here at home.
Dr. Paul Lynch serves as Chief Executive Officer of Pain Doctor, Inc. and manages pain management clinics across the United States. He is also the Founder of the WorldPix Foundation, a nonprofit that captures photos of a country’s most natural resource— its beauty— and donates proceeds back to causes in the country where the photos were taken.