Dr. Annamaria Iakovou is a pulmonary and critical care doctor for Northwell Health fighting every day on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic at the North Shore University Hospital in New York. The health care system was so overwhelmed there makeshift hospital tents were erected in city parks.
In an exclusive interview with USA TODAY, she recalled how about a month ago, she first heard about some cases being confirmed within the area in a daily teleconference with her superiors. It seemed like yesterday COVID-19 was just a rumor on Long Island.
But now, it’s everywhere.
“This is the new norm, which is scary,” she said. “It feels really palpable that it’s affecting us right here, someone we’re working with today could be sick tomorrow.”
Iakovou has lived and worked in New York her entire life. She said the pandemic is “psychologically stressful and anxiety provoking.”
What started out as two or three cases in the ICU, turned into floors of COVID-19 patients. Iakovou has trouble remembering what floors aren’t dedicated to coronavirus patients.
The new hospital measures took some getting used to, but they've become routine.
For Iakovou, they begin in the hospital parking garage at about 7 a.m. with slipping into a pair of white Newbound sneakers she's dubbed her “coronavirus shoes.” They stay in a bag in her car. She never brings them into her house.
Iakovou no longer dresses in business casual clothes underneath her white doctor’s coat. Instead, she changes in the call room into a clean pair of scrubs picked up the day before along with an N95 mask and goggles sealed in separate Ziploc-like bags.
She seals her phone in a clean bag, throws it in her pocket with her sealed N95 and goggles, and leaves the call room to see her first patient of the day.
Whenever she sees a COVID-19 patient, Iakovou goes through the process of putting on (donning) and taking off (doffing) personal protective equipment (PPE). She washes her hands before putting on a yellow gown over her clothes and surgical cap.
She takes her N95 mask out of the Ziploc bag, puts it on and covers it with a surgical mask, so the harder-to-come-by mask can be reused.
Iakovou puts on two pairs of gloves and takes the goggles out of the second Ziploc bag, placing them tightly over her eyes. If she can find booties – a rarity in the hospital – she puts those on, too. Now fully donned in PPE, she's ready to enter the patient's room.
Each patient has their own dedicated equipment, including a stethoscope that Iakovou wipes down before putting in her ear. She tries to limit the time she spends in a COVID-19 patient’s room.
After she leaves the room, it's another process to doff all of her PPE. Everything that comes off gets thrown out: both pairs of gloves, surgical cap, booties and her surgical mask.
She thinks of her kids back at home.
Her N95 and goggles goes back into the Ziploc bags and into her pocket. Then she washes her hands and dons a new surgical mask before moving onto the next patient.
Twelve hours later, Iakovou leaves the hospital and changes back into her regular shoes in the hospital parking garage. She calls her husband Jack to warn him she’s on her way home. She reminds him to keep the kids away from the kitchen. She will pass through there after dropping her bag in the mudroom and heading up the stairs to take a shower. Only then, will she greet her family.
It's her "different normal."
“Initially it was crazy," Iakovou said. "By Wednesday, I was starting to feel like I have my process in place and it doesn’t feel as stressful anymore.”
Follow Adrianna Rodriguez on Twitter: @AdriannaUSAT.