Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

San Diego’s military medical team helps hospital on the verge of collapse

The San Juan Regional Medical Center in Farmington, New Mexico serves a vast area in the Four Corners. Dr. Brad Greenberg, the hospital’s emergency preparedness medical director, said they take care of everyone, no matter who they are or where they are from.

“We serve a mix of urban, rural and border areas and also serve as a reference center for many of the facilities that exist on the Navajo Nation,” said Greenberg.

COVID has not been kind to the region. You have had five waves of COVID and the past 13 weeks have been particularly tough.

“We were on the verge of a real clinical disaster,” said Greenberg. “We didn’t have enough staff to take care of the really unbelievable number of seriously ill people.”

San Diego’s military medical team helps hospital on the verge of collapse

The Navy came to their aid, with two Navy Medical Response Teams of 23 from the Navy Medical Center in San Diego.

Commandant Dr. Nikunj Bhatt, the senior medical officer, said they were proud to be carrying out this mission.

“That’s what we’re trained for, that’s what we do, that’s why we love it,” he said. “And you know, I can’t imagine myself anywhere but being on the front lines of patient care.”

“I was really shocked to hear that so many people were on the ventilators,” said Lieutenant Junior Grade Daniela Jenkins, RN.
Jenkins is an intensive care nurse on the Navy team. Before joining the military, she worked in a civil hospital.

“I know how difficult it is to be short on staff and how difficult it is to treat three to four patients in the intensive care unit, and no intensive care nurse should ever have to care for three to four patients. And they are all so sick, and it was really amazing to hear these nurses say it hadn’t been for a month, “she said.

RELATED: Hospital admissions due to COVID are growing at a record pace in San Diego County

Dr. Greenberg said the arrival of the Navy did wonders for the hospital and morale. “Boy what a bit of tailwind, some inspiration and a feeling like we’re all together,” he said.

He credits them for saving the hospital from collapse and saving many lives in the process.

“Any patient who can do it almost heals our soul … We have had patients who visit us and go to the intensive care unit to say thank you … these are the gains that just keep me going,” said Nurse Jenkins.

Not every story ends that way, but Lieutenant Commander Charles Volk, an intensive care pulmonologist, said losing a patient does not mean failure.

“Part of our job is … being there when we can’t heal or heal someone is to take care of them … at the end of their life and see that the end of their life is as good as possible … with minimal pain and suffering as we can achieve, “Volks said. “It was a strenuous and rewarding part of our job, especially during this pandemic when we just got so much out of it.”

Jenkins said that success is also measured by those who treat them with compassion, even when patients cannot feel it.

“This time is special because the patient will not remember it, but the family will,” she said.

These heroes are people and these experiences leave their mark. Dr. Bhatt said showing emotion is not a sign of weakness.

“There are times when it’s hard, it’s really hard, and you just have to get away from it. We’re all human and there are times when I’ve cried,” said Bhatt.

RELATED: Residents of the county without severe COVID symptoms are urged to stay away from emergency rooms

Jenkins said it was hard to see death and it felt somehow different to experience loss during the vacation.

“It’s hard, I mean, to go into a room and see a lifeless soul there. It’s hard, it’s not easy, and I feel like I’m very connected to my patients, especially on vacation “, she said. “I feel like these losses hurt me more. I can’t imagine what these losses are like for this patient’s relatives, especially on Christmas Day. It was tough.”

But those experiences also changed them for the better and they will carry the stories of that community with them forever.

Dr. Bhatt said they learned from those who were important to them. “We were very close to the Navajo Nation and hearing some of their stories and practices are very touching for us and it was a profound experience,” he said. “Even a wake-up call at times, just to understand where they are from and their stories they deliver, even to incorporate some of the healing practices into our care.”

Dr. Greenberg says they too will live on in the hearts of staff and the community because they answered the call when they needed them most.

“Our sincere appreciation for your sacrifices and your willingness to come out and help make a difference,” said Greenberg. “To each of their families who similarly make the sacrifice of being the forces behind these active service members who make all of this possible, thank you too.”

And the news of their good work traveled to San Diego’s Mayor Todd Gloria, who praised the teams. “I have great respect for those who serve our nation and those who do it at a difficult time like this, they often sacrifice both their own comfort and that of their families to protect us all,” said Gloria. “I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I thank you for representing the best of this country, the best of our city.”

RELATED: Omicron Rise Is Hitting San Diego County Employers Hard

That means a lot to those who served on this mission over a month of vacation.

“To be honest, the only thing that matters is ‘thank you’, it’s very important. Those two words mean a lot to us, ”said Jenkins.

But as they left, another wave of COVID hit the rest of the country – a fact that Dr. Greenberg has not escaped.

“We’re sitting right on the edge of our seats waiting for Omicron to really make itself known in the state of New Mexico and the region,” he said.

As this virus continues to mutate, there are so many unknowns, but having heroes like this on the front lines, 1,000 of which will be deployed soon, brings hope to communities facing or about to face the worst.

Comments are closed.