SURGEON GENERAL, WHERE ART THOU?

Physician anesthesiologist at Stanford at Associated Anesthesiologists Medical Group
Richard Novak, MD is a Stanford physician board-certified in anesthesiology and internal medicine.Dr. Novak is an Adjunct Clinical Professor in the Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative and Pain Medicine at Stanford University, the Medical Director at Waverley Surgery Center in Palo Alto, California, and a member of the Associated Anesthesiologists Medical Group in Palo Alto, California.
email rjnov@yahoo.com
phone 650-465-5997

Picture this: You’re a highly qualified, board-certified physician anesthesiologist with a Master’s Degree in Public Health from Berkeley. President Donald Trump appoints you to be the Surgeon General of the United States. Then the COVID-19 pandemic rears its head, and you can’t speak out regarding appropriate public health measures without crossing your President. Such is the plight of Dr. Jerome Adams, the 20th Surgeon General of the United States, stuck between supporting medical science or avoiding conflict the President he works for.

Dr. Adams is the first anesthesiologist to hold the office of Surgeon General when he was appointed in 2017. Dr. Adams’ area of public health expertise is the prevention and management of opioid abuse. In 2014 then-Governor of Indiana Mike Pence appointed Dr. Adams to be the Indiana Health Commissioner. Under Dr. Adams’ guidance, Indiana counties created syringe exchanges to contain the spread of AIDS throughout the state.

As an anesthesiologist, I’m a fan of Jerome Adams. We’re separated by only one degree: Dr. Adams is an acquaintance of Dr. Michael Champeau, who is the President of my anesthesia group in California. Dr. Adams is highly respected within the anesthesia world, and was a lead speaker at the 2019 American Society of Anesthesiologists National Meeting.

Dr. Adams was the subject of an article in The Washington Post on July 12, 2020, titled “Surgeon General Jerome Adams may be the nicest guy in the Trump Administration. But is that what America needs right now?” The article states, “Adams came to Washington three years ago to tackle another problem —  the raging opioid crisis — by drawing from a painful personal history with a brother who has struggled with substance abuse. Yet he has been thrust into the role of the pandemic surgeon general.” The article describes Jerome Adams as a fine man, experienced in tackling the opioid problem, but now confronted with the difficult public health reality of the coronavirus.

Most people don’t understand the office of the Surgeon General, a position often referred to as “The Nation’s Doctor.”The Surgeon General of the United States is the head of the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, and is the leading spokesperson on matters of public health in the United States. In contrast, the Attorney General of the United States is the head of the United States Department of Justice, the chief lawyer of the United States government, and a member of the President’s Cabinet. Compared to the Attorney General, the Surgeon General has historically been an office with little power.

Dr. Adams’ legacy as Surgeon General will likely be clouded by our nation’s public health response to the COVID-19 virus. At the time of this writing, COVID case numbers and death rates are peaking in the United States, five months after the onset of the outbreak. Dr. Adams is in a precarious position: he was appointed to the office of Surgeon General by a President who has spent much of 2020 ignoring the advice of medical experts and advisors. If Dr. Adams publicly emphasizes the medical facts regarding battling the COVID pandemic (6-foot social distancing, wearing masks, avoiding crowded indoor settings) he risks contradicting the President who appointed him to the office. If Dr. Adams remains mute on the appropriate public health approach to battling the COVID pandemic, he risks marring his reputation as the lead public health officer in the United States.

Dr. Adams’ early response to the COVID pandemic in February 2020 included advice for the general public to not wear masks:

On Feb. 29, 2020, Adams tweeted: 

In an interview with “Fox & Friends” on March 2, 2020, Dr. Adams said: “One of the things (the general public) shouldn’t be doing is going out and buying masks. . . . It has not been proven to be effective in preventing the spread of coronavirus amongst the general public. . . . Folks who don’t know how to wear them properly tend to touch their faces a lot, and actually can increase the spread of coronavirus. You can increase your risk of getting it by wearing a mask if you are not a healthcare provider.”

This advice was contrary to the now-accepted public health strategy of requiring masks on everyone. The fact that the Surgeon General made the opposite recommendation in February 2020 was unfortunate. He meant well, as his advice was given at a time when there were inadequate amounts of PPE (personal protective equipment) for healthcare workers who were battling COVID on the hospital frontlines. Adams did not want an inadequate supply of masks to be redirected away from hospitals. When the public health recommendation later pivoted 180 degrees to wearing masks publicly, Adams’ February admonition seemed to have been bad advice.

In the spring of 2020, Adams appeared daily on television as part of President Trump’s Coronavirus Task Force, along with Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx. When the Trump administration was facing criticisms about its COVID-19 response in hard-hit minority communities, Dr. Adams’ remarks at a April 10, 2020 daily press briefing were designed to address those concerns. Critics believed several comments made by Adams played into racial stereotypes. “Avoid alcohol, tobacco and drugs,” Adams said. He urged communities of color to “step up” to fight the disease. “We need you to do this, if not for yourself, then for your abuela. Do it for your granddaddy. Do it for your Big Mama. Do it for your Pop-Pop.” Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (Democrat-N.Y.) said the comments amplified claims about minority populations engaging in risky behaviors.

In the weeks following April 10th, 2020, Dr. Adams’ appearances with the Coronavirus Task Force became limited, and his role in COVID-19 public health policy was minimized.

The website of the Surgeon General (see above) has a paucity of information about the pandemic. There is one link for COVID-19 Updates. The website has general information about the Office of the Surgeon General (OSG), but very little medical information. There are links to Advisories on Marijuana and the Developing Brain, E-Cigarettes, and Naloxone and Opioid Overdose.

In the midst of the greatest public health crisis in one hundred years, the Surgeon General has remained—or the government has kept him—on the sidelines. At the current time the administration has distanced itself from both Dr. Fauci and Dr. Adams. The medical community sees this as unfortunate, as both physicians are respected and honest experts. 

Most Surgeons General have negligible legacies after their term is concluded. Notable past Surgeons General include:

Surgeon General Luther Terry MD (1961 – 1965), who was previously the Chief of General Medicine and Experimental Therapeutics at the National Heart Institute. Dr. Terry’s committee report issued on March 7, 1962 indicated that cigarette smoking was a cause of lung cancer and bronchitis, and probably a risk factor for cardiovascular disease as well.  

This report led to the familiar warning on all packages of cigarettes in the United States:

Surgeon General C. Everett Koop MD (1982-1989), was a pediatric surgeon from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine faculty. Dr. Koop released a paper which called for AIDS education in the early grades of elementary school, and he gave full support for using condoms for disease prevention. He also resisted pressure from the President Reagan to report that abortion was psychologically harmful to women. He believed abortion was a moral issue rather a public health issue.

Surgeon General Antonia Novello MD (1990-1993) was a pediatrician and the first female Surgeon General. She was a graduate of the University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine. 

Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders MD (1993-1994) is currently a professor emeritus of pediatrics at the University of Arkansas. Dr. Elders once spoke at a United Nations conference on AIDS, and when asked whether it would be appropriate to promote masturbation as a means of preventing young people from engaging in riskier forms of sexual activity she replied, “I think that it is part of human sexuality, and perhaps it should be taught.”  She was fired by President Bill Clinton that year.

What will Jerome Adams’ legacy be? We’ll only know after his term has ended and the chronicle of the COVID-19 pandemic is recorded into history books. As the top public health doctor in the United States at the time of our worst public health nightmare in a century, his feats, achievements, and non-achievements will be on the record for years to come. 

I support Dr. Jerome Adams, and urge him to use his platform, education, and experience to be a leader in America’s public health response to COVID-19.

Would President Trump fire his Surgeon General if Dr. Adams publicly disagreed with the President? Perhaps. But I believe Jerome Adams’ legacy will grow to the degree he speaks out on the side of medical science regarding the containment of the coronavirus, and to the degree the United States has a successful public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The most popular posts for laypeople on The Anesthesia Consultant include:
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HOW CORONAVIRUS PRESENTS CLINICALLY . . . NOTES FROM THE 2020 INFECTIOUS DISEASE ASSOCIATION OF CALIFORNIA MEETING

Physician anesthesiologist at Stanford at Associated Anesthesiologists Medical Group
Richard Novak, MD is a Stanford physician board-certified in anesthesiology and internal medicine.Dr. Novak is an Adjunct Clinical Professor in the Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative and Pain Medicine at Stanford University, the Medical Director at Waverley Surgery Center in Palo Alto, California, and a member of the Associated Anesthesiologists Medical Group in Palo Alto, California.
email rjnov@yahoo.com
phone 650-465-5997

I’m forwarding this important healthcare news about the most common presentation of coronavirus. It was obtained from a colleague who took notes from a meeting of the Infectious Disease Association of California dated March 7, 2020:

1. The most common presentation of COVID-19 was a one week prodrome of myaglias (muscle pain), malaise, cough, and low grade fevers gradually leading to more severe trouble breathing in the second week of illness. It is an average of 8 days to development of shortness of breath and average 9 days to onset of pneumonia/pneumonitis. This is not like influenza, which has a classically sudden onset. Fever was not very prominent in several cases. The most consistently present lab finding was lymphopenia (a low level of lymphocytes). The most consistent radiographic finding was bilateral interstitial/ground glass infiltrates on chest X-ray. Aside from that, the other markers (c-reactive protein, procalcitonin) were not as consistent.

2. Co-infection rate with other respiratory viruses like influenza or respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is <=2%, interpret that to mean if you have a positive test for another respiratory virus, then you do not test for COVID-19. This is based on large dataset from China.

3. So far, there have been very few concurrent or subsequent bacterial infections, unlike influenza where secondary bacterial infections are common and a large source of additional morbidity and mortality.

4. Patients with underlying cardiopulmonary disease seem to progress with variable rates to Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) and acute respiratory failure requiring Bilevel Positive Airway Pressure (BiPAP) then intubation. There may be a component of cardiomyopathy from direct viral infection as well. Intubation is considered “source control” equal to patient wearing a mask, greatly diminishing transmission risk. BiPAP is the opposite, and is an aerosol generating procedure and would require all going into the room to wear Powered Air-Purifying Respirators (PAPRs).

5. To date, patients with severe disease are most all (excepting those whose families didn’t sign consent) getting Remdesivir from Gilead through compassionate use. However, the expectation is that avenue for getting the drug will likely close shortly. It will be expected that patients would have to enroll in either Gilead’s randomized controlled trial (RCT) . . . (5 vs 10 days of Remdesivir) or the NIH’s “Adaptive” RCT (Remdesivir vs. placebo). Others have tried Kaletra, but didn’t seem to be much benefit.

6. If our local lab ran out of test kits we could use Quest labs to test. Their test is 24-48 hour turn-around-time. Both Quest and ordering physician would be required to notify Public Health immediately with any positive results. Ordering physician would be responsible for coordinating with the Health Department regarding isolation. Presumably, this would only affect inpatients though since we have decided not to collect specimens ordered by outpatient physicians.

7. At facilities that had significant numbers of exposed healthcare workers they did allow those with low and moderate risk exposures to return to work well before 14 days. Only healthcare workers (HCWs) with highest risk exposures were excluded for almost the full 14 days. After return to work, all wore surgical masks while at work until the 14 days period expired. All had temperature check and interview with employee health prior to start of work, also only until the end of the 14 days. Obviously, only asymptomatic individuals were allowed back.

8. Symptom onset is between 2-9 days post-exposure with median of 5 days. This is from a very large Chinese cohort.

9. Patients can shed RNA from 1-4 weeks after symptom resolution, but it is unknown if the presence of RNA equals presence of infectious virus. For now, COVID-19 patients are “cleared” of isolation once they have 2 consecutive negative RNA tests collected >24 hours apart.

10. All suggested ramping up alternatives to face-to-face visits, telemedicine, “car visits,” and telephone consultation hotlines.

11. Sutter Health and other larger hospital systems are using a variety of alternative respiratory triage at the Emergency Departments.

12. Health Departments (e.g. California Department of Public Health) state the Airborne Infection Isolation Room (AIIR) is the least important of all the suggested measures to reduce exposure. Contact and droplet isolation in a regular room is likely to be just as effective. One heavily affected hospital in the San Jose, California area is placing all “undifferentiated pneumonia” patients not meeting criteria for COVID testing in contact+droplet isolation for 2-3 days while seeing how they respond to empiric treatment and awaiting additional results.

As an internal medicine doctor and anesthesiologist, I see the information above as remarkable for several reasons:

How quickly the symptoms progress in susceptible patients from malaise and cough to respiratory failure and intubation; how difficult it may be to staff adequate numbers of nurses, physicians, and respiratory therapists if the ICU case numbers grow because these healthcare workers will be both at risk and deserving of quarantine themselves; the risk that healthcare workers will stay home because of fear, thus depleting the staff of hospitals; and the paucity of specific medical information the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has has chosen to release either to the medical community or to the public to date.

CORONAVIRUS AND ICU VENTILATORS

Physician anesthesiologist at Stanford at Associated Anesthesiologists Medical Group
Richard Novak, MD is a Stanford physician board-certified in anesthesiology and internal medicine.Dr. Novak is an Adjunct Clinical Professor in the Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative and Pain Medicine at Stanford University, the Medical Director at Waverley Surgery Center in Palo Alto, California, and a member of the Associated Anesthesiologists Medical Group in Palo Alto, California.
email rjnov@yahoo.com
phone 650-465-5997

The question isn’t how many people in the United States will contract the coronavirus COVID-19. The key question is how many of these coronavirus cases will become extremely ill and wind up in an ICU. Authorities tell us two criteria define the threat of a virus: how quickly it can spread, and how severe or virulent the cases are.

How many of the infected patients will develop respiratory failure, and how many will require admission to an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) to be kept alive by a ventilator? To date there have been 90,000 coronavirus cases in the world and 3,000 have died, for a mortality rate of 3.33%. To date there have been 127 coronavirus cases in the United States and 9 have died, for a mortality rate of 7%. This statistic deserves an asterisk, because the denominator is likely too low. We don’t have data as to how many patients have contracted coronavirus, because testing has been limited to date.

We also have no information the numerator, the people who died. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has released minimal information on the fatalities. For example, how many of the Kirkland, Washington deaths were elderly patients who were Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) status? That is, they were to be denied ICU treatment, ventilator support, and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if they became seriously ill? How many of the deaths were vigorous adults who succumbed despite a full ICU effort to keep them alive?

What would the cause of these deaths be in a coronavirus-infected patient? The coronavirus is a respiratory virus which primarily infects respiratory tissues, much like the influenza virus does.  Symptoms could include sudden onset of fever, cough, headache, muscle pain, severe malaise (feeling unwell), sore throat, and a runny nose. With influenza illness may range from mild to severe and even death, but hospitalization and death occur mainly among high risk groups such as elderly patients or those with preexisting chronic illnesses.

A severe coronavirus infection would infect the lungs, and cause progressively increasing shortness of breath and dropping oxygen levels in a patient’s bloodstream. The medical treatment would be supportive, that is, a breathing tube would be placed in the patient’s windpipe (trachea) by an anesthesiologist, an ICU doctor, or an emergency room doctor, and the tube would be connected to a mechanical breathing machine, called a ventilator.

As of 2015, there were 94,837 ICU beds in the United States. Many or most of these beds are already filled by patients who need ICU support. If the new coronavirus were to become a pandemic which caused thousands or tens of thousands of cases of respiratory failure in the United States, each of these new coronavirus patients would require an ICU bed and a ventilator. This could quickly overrun our ICU capacity in America. 

That is the real scare of the coronavirus issue—the fear that our hospitals could not handle the volume of severe infections. Could temporary ICU beds be set up? Each bed would require a ventilator, a set of monitors, and around-the-clock nursing staffing. The supplies of each of these is finite. In addition, with an infectious disease such as coronavirus, each of these ICU beds would ideally be an isolation bed, which kept that patient quarantined from other patients and staff.

Can an anesthesia machine in an operating room be used as an ICU ventilator? Yes. Read more about that topic here. An operating room can be converted into an ICU room with the anesthesia machine ventilator keeping the patient alive.

In week one of the pandemic in California, I went grocery shopping at my local Safeway. The parking lot was full. When I arrived at the front door there were no shopping carts. Inside the store I saw hundreds of shoppers elbow to elbow in all the aisles. I asked an employee why the store was so busy, and she said, “This is nothing. You should have seen it yesterday—even busier!” “Why is it?” I asked. 

Her answer was two words: “The virus.”

She went on to say that customers were buying cleansing wipes, Advil, Tylenol, water, and food provisions that they could survive on for months. On my way out of the store, I saw my own primary care physician in the parking lot, and we discussed the shopping mayhem. He validated my views with the remarks, “It’s not if, but when, people will get infected. It’s just  too soon to know how many severe cases there will be.”

The Safeway customers buying Advil and Tylenol are worried. If you have a severe infection, Advil and Tylenol are not going to save you. What you would need is an intensive care bed with a ventilator, equipment to support your vital signs, and doctors and nurses to care for you 24 hours around the clock.

I hope and pray the overwhelming majority of coronavirus infections in the United States will be mild and self-limiting. A search for a vaccine and/or useful treatment drugs are underway. But because American medical systems need to be prepared, those in charge of health care administration are no doubt preparing contingency plans on how they can manage thousands of new patients in respiratory failure if needed. For more information on this topic see Stockpiling Ventilators for Influenza Pandemics.



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The most popular posts for laypeople on The Anesthesia Consultant include:
How Long Will It Take To Wake Up From General Anesthesia?
Why Did Take Me So Long To Wake From General Anesthesia?
Will I Have a Breathing Tube During Anesthesia?
What Are the Common Anesthesia Medications?
How Safe is Anesthesia in the 21st Century?
Will I Be Nauseated After General Anesthesia?
What Are the Anesthesia Risks For Children?
The most popular posts for anesthesia professionals on The Anesthesia Consultant  include:
10 Trends for the Future of Anesthesia
Should You Cancel Anesthesia for a Potassium Level of 3.6?
12 Important Things to Know as You Near the End of Your Anesthesia Training
Should You Cancel Surgery For a Blood Pressure = 178/108?
Advice For Passing the Anesthesia Oral Board Exams
What Personal Characteristics are Necessary to Become a Successful Anesthesiologist?






LEARN MORE ABOUT RICK NOVAK’S FICTION WRITING AT RICK NOVAK.COM BY CLICKING ON THE PICTURE BELOW:

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