JCMC Emergency Room Physician Recounts Life on the Front Lines

During the peak of the pandemic, Dr. Lee recalls holding the hand of a man he had met 10 minutes earlier who was dying from COVID-19 complications — as his family said their final goodbyes through FaceTime on an iPad. “It was like they were holding his hand through me,” he said.

Then, in August, he witnessed the birth of his third child — a healthy, 7-pound, 9-ounce boy.

In between, he treated countless patients suffering from the ravages of COVID-19. He helped save many lives and saw too many deaths.

He also witnessed what happens when people are confronted with an unprecedented health crisis. He saw his co-workers come together as a team. He saw his community unite in support of the hospital’s hard-working healthcare heroes.

“There has been so much negativity and so much unforeseen death, and just sadness,” Dr. Lee said. “Then, having your son born during this time is what life is all about. It’s about taking opportunities to appreciate and enjoy what’s around you and focus on what’s important —cherishing life.”

Being an emergency physician is all Dr. Lee ever wanted to be. After graduating from Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine, Dr. Lee did his residency at Morristown Medical Center, then started working as an attending at Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston.

Dr. Lee jumped at the opportunity to work in a big city emergency department at JCMC. But nobody could have predicted what 2020 would bring.

It started in late February. Patients with fevers and coughs. Some had trouble breathing. Death came quickly.

“We had really little information,” Dr. Lee said. “It was a very trying time. We were scared. Our job was to take care of patients, but we didn’t know what we were dealing with.”

The staff in the emergency department came together like never before. It wasn’t just direct clinical staff such as doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners and physician assistants rising to the occasion — it was ancillary staff that included ER techs, unit clerks and environmental services personnel.

“It was a whole team effort that allowed us to treat so many sick people and save so many lives,” Dr. Lee said.

The outpouring of support from the community also helped. There were daily donations of food and personal protective equipment. Residents who lived in the vicinity of the hospital would bang pots and pans and ring bells during shift changes.

“Those acts of kindness gave us the mental push we needed to leave our families and go treat our patients,” Dr. Lee said.

No one wants to live through a pandemic like this again, especially those who have been fighting it on the front lines. But Dr. Lee said the staff at JCMC is prepared for whatever may come.

“No matter what the next few months bring,” Dr. Lee said, “We are here, and we are ready to care for those in our community who are sick and need our help.”

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About Jersey City Medical Center 

The Jersey City Medical Center (JCMC), an RWJBarnabas Health facility, is a modern 348-bed teaching hospital located on a campus overlooking the Statue of Liberty and NY Harbor, conveniently located near major highways, PATH, bus and light rail stops on campus. A not-for-profit hospital, JCMC is a state-designated Regional Trauma Center with more than 16,000 admissions and 90,000 Emergency Department visits annually. JCMC has received many industry recognitions, including achieving Magnet recognition for three consecutive times for meeting rigorous standards for nursing excellence; attaining the highest-grade level “A” for safety for 14 reporting periods since 2012; and the Orthopedic Institute was designated as a DNV GL Healthcare-certified Hip & Knee Replacement Program.  RWJBarnabas Health and Jersey City Medical Center, in partnership with Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey – the state’s only NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center – brings a world-class team of researchers and specialists to fight alongside you, providing close-to-home access to the latest treatment and clinical trials.  The medical center is also a state-designated stroke center, a regional comprehensive cardiac center, a perinatal intensive care center, a regional level 3 neonatal intensive care unit for critically ill newborns, and home to the most advanced robotic-assisted surgical program in Hudson County.  JCMC, a provider of Advanced Life Support for Hudson County, runs 911 Medical Call Screening for Hudson County and operates one of the state’s busiest EMS systems.  In addition, Jersey City Medical Center is a major provider of behavioral health services, including 24/7 psychiatric emergency and crisis screening programs.

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