“I heard a bad quote in mid-April of last year from a healthcare provider. It was not someone I knew directly,” Dr. Austin Mackens said. The bad quote he heard was “I did not sign up for this.”
“My first thought was “No, this is what you signed up for. We signed up to help people no matter
Dr. Mackens is the Medical Director of Emergency Medicine at the Vanderbilt Bedford Hospital. Along with patient care in the emergency room, he is also re- sponsible for arranging schedules, solidifying processes, and more.
In the beginning of the crisis, we didn’t have the answers and neither did doctors. It was a new virus. We didn’t know how it spread, why it affected people differently, or what medications and treatments worked to reduce the dramatic symptoms. On top of that, the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) was dwindling. Everything from masks to even toilet paper was flying off the shelves. People at home were not the only ones needing PPE. Workers at the hospital on
the front line often had to resort to reusing PPE, like N95 masks, because the nation (and the world) was in a shortage.
“Being in a leadership role, you get used to having to come up with the answers. But in this situation, you just didn’t have them. Sometimes as a leader you have to humble yourself and say ‘I don’t know.’ And then you have to rely on others around you to help you find the answers,” he said.
Even though the PPE was running low, Dr. Mackens was determined that no one in his emergency room would get un- necessarily sick with COVID-19. “I told my staff that, num- ber one, no one here is getting COVID,” he said. “Our cases, that were contracted from patients, were incredibly low.”
As cases climbed in the United States, anything about the virus fired up political discourse. Every side of the argument seemed to fall into drastic conflict. On the front lines, Dr. Mackens felt differently; he believed the pandemic helped him grow as a person. “Honestly, if you look at what has been accomplished across multiple countries, we have never seen a response like this since WWII-where so many countries came together,” he began. “Everything came from scratch. Brand new vaccines, massive PPE production. I see it as we all forgot we had these conflicts for just a little while and we made sure to all fight for a common goal.”
The emergency room staff would look to Dr. Mackens for his guidance. As the pandemic carried on and numbers rose, the staff never backed down. He would tell them, “I know you’re tired. We’re going to look back on this and we’re going to remember that this is history. People will remember forever. And we got to experience it first hand. I know you’re tired. But we have to keep pushing.”
The COVID war has been a hard-fought battle that is soon to come to an end. One day, we will get to shout victory because of leaders like Dr. Austin Mackens.-GN