by Jim Killam | 7-minute read
Dr. Terry Buzzard is a physician and regional medical director for Physicians Immediate Care, which operates more than 20 clinics in Illinois and Indiana, including Rockford and throughout the Chicago area. Terry and his family are members of First Free Rockford. We spoke with him Wednesday evening about the coronavirus pandemic.
What are you seeing in your clinics?
A lot of doctors’ offices are actually somewhat less busy because of the shelter in place order. People are kind of staying away. But we are getting phone calls or visits with concerns about it.
We have protocols set up where a patient comes in and they are asked some standard questions, risk evaluation questions. If they answer yes, we basically put them in a mask, ask a couple more questions, and then send them back to their vehicle. Then a nurse goes out and does the initial questionnaire evaluation. Those nurses have to gown up in PPE (personal protective equipment – for this type of illness, a mask or respirator, a gown, gloves and eye protection). They don’t know what they’re dealing with yet.
My job, then, is after I get the information from the nurse, I go out with PPE on, talk to the patient and do whatever limited exam I can do in their car. I can listen to their heart and lungs. I can use a light for their ears nose and throat. It’s basically only respiratory illnesses I am dealing with in the cars. We can do some simple flu tests, strep tests and so forth. If they have one of those problems, then we treat them. If they have something and we can’t determine what it is, we tell them it’s possible they might have coronavirus.
Can you test for coronavirus?
We can’t do any coronavirus tests at our clinic. We can potentially order a test. But currently everything funnels through the Illinois Department of Public Health, so you fill out an online form if you think they need the test, and then they will evaluate that to see if the person qualifies. Right now, it is very restrictive. You have to be a patient in a hospital with a diagnosis of pneumonia, or you have to be in a nursing home that may have a cluster of cases, and then those would definitely get the test.
Beyond that, most people are just told, “You may have it. Please go home and quarantine yourself until you are better. If you get very ill, then you can call the hospital or your doctor and get the medical attention you need.”
Have you had people test positive?
We have had cases where we are given permission that they could be sent for testing. Then we have followed up on some by calling to tell the person that they’re positive. And of course, most of the cases we’re dealing with, the person isn’t ill enough to require hospitalization. They’re just told to go home and stay home until they are better. They are given some advice on how to best keep the illness away from other people.
What is your understanding of the situation in Winnebago County? As of today there were seven confirmed cases.
Fortunately, Rockford has not dealt with any overwhelming number of cases in the hospitals where we are short on beds or ICU. We are still on what appears to be a relatively sharp curve upward. … We probably won’t know for a week or two, maybe three, the effects of the quarantining and how that will level off the number of cases. It undoubtedly will to some degree.
I went to a conference in Chicago on March 7. It was right across the street from Rush Hospital where this new case of coronavirus had come in. And we were saying, “Oh, look, that’s the fourth case in Illinois. This thing is just plodding along. It doesn’t seem like it’s going to be much of a deal.”
Fast forward just three weeks from that, and now we are dealing with 1,865 cases in Illinois. So if Winnebago County goes from seven to 1,865 in three weeks, it will be a bigger deal. Because it will be everywhere at that point.
Any specific advice for seniors?
Especially those over the age of 60 need to be taking this very seriously. My dad is 80, my mom is 85 (they live in North Carolina). My dad has a heart condition. So I needed to tell them, to emphasize the seriousness of someone that age with health concerns getting ill with this. I said, “You really don’t want this virus. I’m saying that because I love you. Even if you do make it through, I don’t want to see you struggling.”
So they need to do something that’s a relatively small ‘sacrifice’ — and that is to stay away from others. If we have overblown it, and it all blows over in the next few weeks, then we could say, “Oh well, we overprotected you but you are OK.”
But I don’t think that’s going to happen. I think it’s going to get worse before it gets better.
So for everyone, it’s thinking beyond ourselves?
A lot of this is about loving your neighbor as well as yourself. You don’t want to spread it and you don’t want to get it yourself. Because guess what? You are going to inconvenience a lot of other people. You’re going to inconvenience a medical staff. You’re going to potentially transmit it to nurses, doctors, paramedics and your family by you being ill.
Healthcare workers must feel especially vulnerable.
One of our employees tested positive, I think from exposure. (The person was quarantined before they found out they were positive.) So we have had to deal with that. The fear you keep hearing is about trying to protect the healthcare workers. Because they are the ones being exposed all the time.
One of the interesting things the CDC now recommends is not quarantining healthcare workers under investigation who are not showing symptoms. Which is different from the general public. And the reason, of course, is that they are trying to say, don’t eliminate a body from the healthcare worker field if you don’t have to. … If you had to do that with everybody, you would have not very many workers.
So they say take your temperature twice a day.
That must be a nervous feeling.
There are understandable anxieties associated with this disease on a lot of levels. And it is permeating my field more so than probably a lot of fields. Although I don’t know that my people are more anxious than the grocery store workers, honestly. Maybe less. We are probably taking higher precautions than they are able to.
So everyone is at a slightly higher level of uncertainty about these things, but people are doing what they can do and everyone is putting their best foot forward. Kind of coming together in a community team spirit about how to best combat this, and yet see to the needs of people.
How can we pray for doctors and other healthcare workers?
We don’t want those who are working on the front lines to get sick with this. Part of that is we don’t want to be ill, and part of it is that we want to continue to be able to help. We don’t want to be pulled out of that battlefield.
And then, having the supplies we need, PPE. We have a fair amount right now, a good quantity. But no one knows how many cases are going to be coming in every day, say, two weeks from now.
Also that we would stay encouraging to others. It’s not just about being scientific, it’s about being compassionate. You can get dis-compassionate kind of quickly when you are super busy, when you are tired and you see no end in sight. That kind of fatigue can wear on people.
What do you think this all means for Christians?
When I think back to Pastor Luke’s talks about reaching out to our neighbors, and relationships that have developed in those little ways he has talked about, maybe it was for such a time as this. People can see Jesus in that.
When people are in times of great uncertainty and anxiety, or dis-ease in times of disease, this is a time we can show that peace we have about the situation. That we are less anxious. Then it’s a 1 Peter 3:15 thing, where we are people who live with a hope within us. And then we can share that hope, when people ask how we are coping with this so well.
You sound hopeful, even with all this uncertainty.
This is a chance for Christ followers to be Jesus to a lot of people. If you are a person who is blessed with good health, it may be time to help those who are more vulnerable. If you are blessed with working, with income, maybe it’s time for you to be a blessing to others who are more economically vulnerable.