From the Baseline to the Front Line: Dr. Simon Gorwara
The COVID-19 pandemic has produced much uncertainty across the country, but one thing it has unequivocally reaffirmed is our respect and adoration for the many officials and health care providers dedicating their lives to keeping others safe. In our new series From the Baseline to the Front Line, we’ll honor members of the USTA Eastern community who also happen to belong to that heroic group. Here we speak with Dr. Simon Gorwara (above, with therapy dog Bella), the Chairman of the Division of Cardiology at Vassar Brothers Medical Center in Poughkeepsie, NY, who is helping treat COVID-19 patients in the ICU.
What can you tell us about your experience on the front lines of this pandemic?
Dr. Gorwara: The tragedy of [the situation] is obviously at the forefront. I was on vacation the week this hit, so when I first went back to the hospital, there was a little trepidation. What am I entering? Areas that used to be my hangouts—like the cardiac catheterization lab holding area—have been converted into COVID-positive units. So basically what you have is an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) that’s five times the size of a normal ICU, spread around different parts of the hospital. The patients in there are all pretty sick and on ventilators. Many are on dialysis. I’ve volunteered to work in the ICU. Before training in cardiology, I trained in critical care and I maintained my board certification, so that has kind of allowed me to step into that role a little easier. But I’m in and out of the COVID ICU for maybe an hour, two hours tops. The nurses, the respiratory therapists, the patient care technicians are really the ones staying at the bedside on the front lines. They’re managing these very sick patients, pulling 12-hour shifts. Aside from maybe a break or two, they’re in there for hours and hours in uncomfortable personal protective equipment, adapting to the new environment, coordinating care with multiple providers and fighting for every patient. It’s hot, they’re wearing double masks, double gloves, gowns and caps and obviously not having much normal human interaction.
You recently wrote a positive Facebook post about your colleagues that went viral, receiving over 600 likes and 300 shares. Why do you think it resonated?
Dr. Gorwara: What really strikes me is the camaraderie one feels working in the hospital, the pride we’re all taking in our work. It’s brought out another side to us—a side that I know we’ve always had, but that is more evident when faced with this type of disaster. I’ve been in the health care profession a long time and I haven’t seen this much “working together towards a common goal and against a common enemy” as much as I’ve seen it in the past few weeks. From the people who are cleaning the rooms to the pharmacy staff, to the nurses, physicians, patient care techs and the administrators who are planning for this and arranging for extra ventilators and new ICUs. We’re quickly adapting regulations, policies are getting created quickly and efficiently. The whole team approach is something at which to marvel. We’re really coming together as a single unit. There’s very little complaining about the things that one normally complains about while working in a hospital. I hear everyone grateful and thankful for their teammates and colleagues. Perhaps it was the expression of this optimism and hope in my post that struck a chord with so many and led to all those shares and likes.
What can people do to help?
Dr. Gorwara: Stay at home, but that’s evident at this point. I think in addition [people can help] by staying positive. We need more recognition that we’re all in this together, more reflecting on what we can all do differently when life does return to some semblance of normalcy. And it will. We’ll be back, going out to restaurants and parties. We’ll play tennis. And maybe it will come back better when it does come back. It’s like if you’ve ever been injured and aren’t able to play tennis for a while, and then you’re able to play again after a few months. When that has happened to me, I’ve come back with a true joy for the sport. I was just happy to be hitting balls. It didn’t matter that I missed that backhand. It didn’t matter that I lost a match I could’ve won. Of course, that feeling normally doesn’t last long, unfortunately. [Laughs]. You do go back to berating yourself. But when you’re away from the game, you realize how foolish that is.
You clearly have an affinity for tennis. When did you first pick up a racquet?
Dr. Gorwara: When I was a teenager I’d visit my grandparents in California for the summer, and across from their home there was a tennis court. I was into sports, and there wasn’t a lot to do, so I took my grandfather’s old wooden racquet and went out there and played a pick-up game with a local kid. The first time I played I got thrashed quite badly. Then I adapted my game and this local kid, who I think was quite good, suddenly couldn’t beat me anymore. Pretty soon he was smashing his racquet in frustration. [Laughs]. But I was really never formally trained.
What do you love about the sport?
Dr. Gorwara: It’s become a passion. I’ve learned so many different skills: playing skills, and also emotional skills. I’m still working on developing those. [Laughs]. But I think I still have so much more to learn. I don’t think I’ve peaked yet. That motivates me. It gives me an incentive to work on my fitness. And there’s a mental part, too. I’m a perfectionist, and it’s easy to get down on myself and walk away. But I really want to play for the joy of the game. That’s something I always find elusive, something I always find myself chasing, in a good way.
USTA Eastern thanks and proudly supports health care professionals for their service. If you know somebody in the USTA Eastern community who should be recognized in "From the Baseline to the Front Line", please contact us.