NEW YORK – "We are experiencing situations that we have never experienced before. We have to face an enemy, which we cannot strike at directly on this front as long as there is no medicine,” Dr. Onoufrios (Frixos) S. Goussis, Professor of Pathology and Endocrinology, and one of the leading doctors at Saint Francis Hospital in Roslin, NY, told The National Herald. Dr. Goussis is battling on the “front" against COVID-19 in the hospital, but also in general on Long Island.
“Two weeks ago, 80% of our patients were COVID-19 patients. Now, with yesterday's data, that percentage has fallen below 65%. We have about 40 patients on the respirator and 16-20 more in respiratory masks. There was a plan to turn part of the garage into a clinic for COVID-19, but given the recession and the plateau observed in the curve, the plan was suspended,” said Dr. Gousis, who added that although the number of cases has decreased, there is a long way to go.
“We hear from Governor Cuomo about partial lifting of restrictive measures. I consider it premature to discuss a return to a normal lifestyle because there is no proven cure. There may be a temporary break, but the prevailing view of the medical community is that this crisis will go into a recession, but it will not go away. Therefore, we must learn to live with the current data and decide that our life will change and will not be as it was, until there is a safe vaccine,” Dr. Goussis noted.
Regarding the concept of a “safe vaccine”- given that there are reports and leaks from pharmaceutical companies that it may be ready in the short term- Dr. Goussis warns that insufficient safeguarding to ensure its proper functioning can have the opposite effect.
“So let's assume that the vaccine is ready in a few months, as they say. Will it be safe? Each immune system is different and can have side effects. To understand, giving a vaccine means that I am weakening the virus and our body is producing antibodies. If there is a defect and the person's body is stimulated to produce antibodies against the body itself, as happens in autoimmune diseases, we will have irreparable damage. These antibodies will attack another organ and the situation will get out of control. The vaccine requires attention, study, and long-term testing. Humanity has effectively treated diseases such as influenza, hepatitis, and measles. We did it, but we didn't do it overnight,” the doctor said.
"Emotionally difficult situations"
As is statistically true, with many COVID-19 patients being treated in the Intensive Care Unit, a significant number of them did not make it at Saint Francis. Although Dr. Goussis is an experienced doctor who is well aware that dealing with a gravely ill patient brings everyone face to face with harsh reality, he noted that the dying cannot come into any contact with their family for a last goodbye and die alone.
“The treating physician, regardless of specialty, when caring for patients with coronary heart disease, must first protect them from the complications of the disease. On the other hand, if they get worse, there are serious emotional dilemmas. You cannot allow visits from friends, relatives, and family. When they die, you see that there is not even one person to hold their hand. You think that, as a human being, you would like to allow his loved ones to do that, but you can't. It is an oxymoron. On the one hand, as a scientist, you have to be strict with isolation, on the other hand, your heart wants something else. But for the good of all, logic must be imposed,” explained Dr. Goussis, adding that decisions on the distribution of the medical resources is just as harsh.
“If a patient has serious underlying diseases and is in the final stages, they say you may have to make the decision to remove them from the respirator and and give priority to another patient with more chances of survival. In these cases, the decision is always difficult.”
One of the arguments of all those who question the number of recorded deaths from COVID-19 is that they are counting deaths from other causes, which coexist with the virus. Dr. Gousis responded, “There are people with health problems who have increased mortality and are in a difficult situation. In any case, the coronavirus or any other secondary infection puts them in danger. These people are more vulnerable to a more serious illness and the risk of death, that is a fact.”
"Dangerous for diabetics"
The hospital environment has always been a hotbed of germs, but doctors' protection measures are clearly stricter than in the past. Dr. Goussis said that Saint Francis Hospital, as well as the Long Island area in general, has been called upon to adapt to new measures.
“In our daily lives, we dress like… astronauts, we take care not to be exposed, although we approach the coronavirus patients to check on them, we do so ‘with fear and love.' Due to my specialty, most patients I attend are diabetic. Many of the people we lost have underlying diseases. Diabetes is another scourge and affects about 30 million patients, and there are many with pre-diabetes.
“These patients are very prone to infections and for the coronavirus they offer an ‘opportunity,’" the doctor told TNH, noting that he was on alert following the effects of steroids such as cortisone.
“It is used to treat respiratory problems. But it has the side effect of raising your blood sugar. There I have to closely monitor patients to control their blood sugar levels. This is a vicious cycle with diabetics, as if you put gasoline on the fire,” he emphasized.
In conclusion, Dr. Goussis called on the public to meticulously and strictly adhere to social distancing and personal hygiene measures, since, “as long as there is no immediate treatment, the treatment is prevention.”