DR. MICHELLE AU:
“I started sleeping in the
guest room in the basement.”
Dr. Michelle Au: “I started sleeping in the guest room in the basement.”
For our 21st Century Plague project, we spoke with 17 Georgians about the toll of COVID-19. Below, Dr. Michelle Au—an anesthesiologist at Emory St. Joseph’s Hospital—describes the preparations at her hospital and explains why intubating patients is one of the riskiest procedures for physicians. (Au was interviewed on March 19.)
I first started hearing about the virus after Christmas. But the news still felt like something distant. It was in China, so you’re watching with this detached interest. I am in the unusual position of being a Chinese American physician with a public health degree who also happens to be running for office [Au is a Democratic candidate for the 48th state Senate district, which incorporates parts of Fulton and Gwinnett counties]. I was talking with voters in the Chinese community who said that I should be speaking out on the issue more.
I probably should have paid more attention. I should have taken it more seriously. But at the time I was almost loath to wade into what I felt was a niche concern that was distant from the country and from our state, because I am running for state office. And especially as a Chinese candidate I was concerned about focusing too much on what were at the time non-local concerns. There were no cases in the U.S. Obviously, we’re in a different situation now.
INTERVIEW WITH STEPHANIE RUHLE
Andrea Austin, an emergency room physician, at her home in San Diego, Calif. on Tuesday, March 24, 2020.
(Sandy Huffaker for The Washington Post)
March 26, 2020 at 12:13 pm PDT
The first time Andrea Austin, 35, considered her own mortality, she was flying into Iraq aboard a C-130 military plane. Though the emergency medicine physician had set up a living will and power of attorney before her seven-month deployment with a shock and trauma team, entering a war zone crystallized the dangers of her job.
Now, more than three years later, Austin is again weighing worst-case scenarios as she continues treating patients at Los Angeles County+USC Medical Center while the coronavirus crisis expands at an alarming rate.
She wrote down which of her fellow doctors she would entrust with end-of-life care. She made clear her preference for cremation. And she compiled her funeral playlist, starting with Israel Kamakawiwoʻole’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Then she stored the details on Google Drive and shared the files with her husband and brother. “My fear of dying is worse now than it was when I was in Iraq,” she said.
Dr. Au is an anesthesiologist at Emory St. Joseph’s Hospital in Atlanta.
Credit: Johnathon Kelso for The New York Times
By Bari Weiss
March 26, 2020
Michelle Au works at Emory St. Joseph’s Hospital in Atlanta. These days she feels like she works at Chernobyl.
As an anesthesiologist, Dr. Au is responsible for one of the most dangerous parts of tending to patients with the coronavirus: intubating those who can’t breathe. The procedure, which involves snaking a tube into the patient’s trachea, is so dangerous because it brings the doctor close to the patient’s mouth, which is constantly shedding the virus. Patients sometimes exhale or cough as the tube is inserted, which aerosolizes the virus, allowing it to hang in the air for several hours.
Last week Dr. Au intubated two patients with Covid-19. “You’re aware of every moment you’re in there,” she told me. “Ten seconds. Twenty seconds. Thirty seconds. You feel radioactive.”
“Have you seen the HBO show ‘Chernobyl’?” she asked. “There are invisible risks that trail you.”
Those invisible risks — a trace of the coronavirus under a fingernail or on a strand of hair — don’t give Dr. Au nightmares just because she is worried about her own health and that of her colleagues. It’s because waiting at home she has a husband and three children.
Nurses wearing protective clothing handle a bag with a potentially infected coronavirus swab at a drive-through testing center in Seattle, Washington. Photograph: John Moore/Getty Images
Jessica Glenza in New York
Thu 19 Mar 2020 14.14 EDT
Dr. Michelle Au is an anesthesiologist and, therefore, expert at quickly and safely putting patients on ventilators. Under normal circumstances, her work is in the operating room.
But in the midst of a respiratory disease outbreak she has a new job, which is both critical and dangerous.
With the coronavirus pandemic bearing down on communities across America, her Georgia hospital – like many others – has canceled all elective surgeries and pulled her on to a specialist airway team.
Dr. Michelle Au is running for the Georgia Senate District 48 seat as a Democratic candidate. Georgia Senate District 48 covers a wide demographic area including Johns Creek, North Fulton county and northern part of Gwinnett County covering Peachtree Corners, Duluth and Suwanee.
The seat was formerly held by Zahra Karinshak, who recently announced that she would run for Georgia’s 7th Congressional District. At the time of press, Josh Uddin is the only challenger to her candidacy on the Democrat’s Primary on May 19, 2020.
Dr. Au has given much serious thoughts and consideration before deciding to announce her candidacy in November 2019. “The decision to run is not taken lightly. As a physician and a mother of three young children, I have to consider the time and dedication needed to serve the district,” said Dr. Au in her exclusive interview with Georgia Asian Times.