Healthcare: Meet an Emergency Room Doctor in Seattle, WA

Interviewer: Freya Gulamali; April 12, 2020

Interviewee: Dr. Khairunnissa Rajwani, emergency room doctor in Seattle

Dr. Khairunnissa Rajwani, former chairman of the Aga Khan Health Board in Seattle, seen here setting up the Monthly Wellness Clinic & providing free blood pressure and blood sugar screening for members of her religious community.

Could you tell us about yourself and your occupation?

My name is Dr. Khairunissa Rajwani and I currently work as a physician in an Emergency Room in Seattle, WA. I received my training as an internist in a hospital affiliated with the University of Chicago, then moved to Washington State, where I have been living and working for more than 20 years.

How has COVID-19 affected the functioning of your hospital?

When COVID-19 first struck Life Care Center in Kirkland, the emergency room was chaotic. Every time a patient came in with a fever, cough or shortness of breath, we had to take extra precautions when evaluating them. At the time, in our E.R., some were skeptical about the scale of COVID-19. However, I actually admitted and diagnosed some of the first few COVID-19 patients, mobilizing our hospital into higher alert protocols. The hospital slowly began these pandemic-level protocols, checking patients and screening employees’ before they enter the hospital, initiating drive-through testing, and cancelling all elective surgeries. Finally, the CDC started providing new guidelines, training about how to don and doff personal protective equipment (PPE) as well as how to stabilize patients with a Power Air Purifying Respirator (PAPR) in the negative pressure room.

What are your opinions on how the state and federal government have responded thus far to the COVID-19 outbreak.

A lot of people are starting to see Washington State “flatten the curve” almost three weeks earlier than other states around the country. Ultimately, I think actions taken at the state and local level have drastically minimized the number of potential deaths. The two main things that Washington State did well were that first, Governor Jay Inslee acted relatively quickly, shutting down the state almost immediately after the emergence of cases at the Life Care Center in Kirkland. Second, several corporate offices such as Amazon and Microsoft were very quick to send their employees home, minimizing the amount of travel and social contact. This prompted the decisions of many universities, businesses, and schools to close. I only wish that the federal government had provided us with more readily available COVID-19 Tests with quicker results. In our hospital, most of our tests take 12-24 hours and we only have a small number of these tests that we can run at the same time. We additionally have a limited supply of tests that take 2-4 hours, so we have to be careful in deciding when to use them. More readily available testing seems like the first step in combating this pandemic.

What is your opinion of medications such as hydroxychloroquine being used to treat coronavirus?

I really can’t say anything about this until the drugs are approved by the FDA. There are several trials in progress including antivirals such as Remdesivir, hydroxychloroquine with azithromycin as well as convalescent plasma therapy and immunosuppressive therapy etc.

What do you believe others can do to help ease problems encountered by healthcare workers?

The CDC guidelines are a good first step to “flattening the curve”. Please stay home and only leave to exercise or walk within your neighborhood. When you do have to go out, make sure you maintain social distancing and wear a face mask if possible. When you are going grocery shopping, try to buy enough supplies to last you two weeks and any necessary medications for a month. Try to avoid vaping or smoking because any form of aerosols in your lungs could make the symptoms of coronavirus worse and lead to complications like ARDS (acute respiratory distress syndrome), an often fatal form of respiratory failure. Please wash your hands frequently, including your thumbs and between the fingers. Sanjay Gupta has a great video on washing your hands!

What worries you most about working in the hospital following COVID-19?

As a first responder, my biggest worry is bringing the coronavirus home where it could affect my family. In order to mitigate the risk of spreading the virus, I, like many other of my colleagues, created a plan. First, before leaving the hospital I wipe and sanitize my bag, keys, and phone. Second, when I arrive home, I use the laundry room as a hot zone, where I change my clothes. Third, I always wash my hands for 20 seconds and take a hot shower before greeting my family.

What is the greatest lesson we can learn from this pandemic?

I think the greatest lesson we can learn from this pandemic is that this pandemic impacts everyone. There are no boundaries or walls for natural disasters like this one. It can affect any race, religion, gender or age. Some other lessons that we can learn from this pandemic is that you should always prepare yourself financially for a disaster and learn from past mistakes. We must stay calm, unite as a family and as a nation to fight this pandemic.

What is one inspiring moment you have witnessed during these troubling times?

Honestly, I’m incredibly inspired by my colleagues and coworkers at the Hospital. Everyone on the front lines are united. Whenever hospital workers and employees get sick, there’s always someone who can cover for them. We stand together.

Are there any other comments you would like to share…?

Please stay safe! #flattenthecurve.