Tales of Covid: Temple Physician Shares His Experiences During Pandemic with a Medical Student
Today is Your Day!
Covid-19 has caused us to change our everyday lives in innumerable ways. When interviewing Dr. Rohit Soans recently about his experiences during the pandemic, the words of Dr. Seuss’s “Oh the Places You’ll Go” seemed to capture the capriciousness of his Covid-entangled life. From the beginning of our interview, Dr. Soans was discussing his aspirations to become a pediatrician and the childhood-classic came to mind. So with apologies to the late, great Dr. Seuss, my interview with Dr. Soans:
“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”
Dr. Soans, the son of a theologian professor, grew up in Bucks County attending Council Rock High School. He went on to attend Penn State Schreyer Honors College where he got “the best of both worlds” with small class sizes and a large student body. Enjoying his work study job at a daycare, he thought he wanted to become a Pediatrician, and enrolled in Penn State’s Medical School.
“Things may happen and often do to people as brainy and footsy as you.”
During his pediatric rotation, he quickly learned that perhaps he was not as passionate about pediatrics as he originally thought. On the outpatient side, many of the patients were coming in for well visits and Dr. Soans felt that there was not much he could to help them, and on the inpatient side where the kids were much sicker and faced tragic diseases like cystic fibrosis, he also felt like there was not much he could do. Looking for a new specialty to pursue, he found psychiatry and surgery, and ended up double-applying.
“And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed! (98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)”
With interviews in both fields, he thought the medical student “bravado” in him led to rank surgery programs higher than psychiatry, and he matched at a program in Columbus, Ohio. By the end of residency he had participated in more operations than 99% of surgery residents which led to a matching in Minimally Invasive and Bariatric Surgery Fellowship in Pittsburgh at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. During his fellowship a love for academic surgery was instilled in him with clinical, research, and teaching duties. Hoping to return to Philadelphia after graduation, the one place offering a minimally invasive surgery job was Temple University Hospital. So Dr. Soans began working at Temple in September, 2014.
“And when things start to happen, don't worry, don't stew. Just go right along, you'll start happening too!”
Currently Dr. Soans is Temple’s Medical Director of Bariatric Surgery. The field is largely composed of elective procedures so when the number of cases of Covid-19 started to surge in Philadelphia, many elective procedures were put on hold. Being sidelined from his usual practice, Dr. Soans reached out to Dr. Amy Goldberg, Temple’s Chair of Surgery, asking how he could help, and was first tasked with helping to set up the “surgical pod.” Temple recognized early on that its emergency department would soon be overrun with Covid patients, and unfortunately there would still be patients presenting with conditions requiring emergent surgeries ranging from fractures to appendicitis. To relieve the ever-growing burden heaped upon the ED, a surgical pod was created where patients requiring surgical attention could bypass the ED. Although different from surgical practice, being the Medical Director of 9 West, one of Temple’s Surgical floors, prepared him for the administrative responsibilities he would have— staffing, writing protocols, and managing an entirely novel workflow.
“You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.”
When Covid came to Philadelphia, and Dr. Soans became involved with Temple’s response to the crisis, concern for exposing his family to the virus led to his wife, two kids, 10 and 7 and schnauzer-poodle named Twix leaving their home to live with Dr. Soans’ parents. No longer having to worry about infecting his family, Dr. Soans used his background in clinical research to help the basic researchers of Temple University obtain blood samples from Covid positive patients in Boyer. At this time, the Institutional Review Board was still requiring consent be obtained with pen and paper signatures for all clinical research. Dr. Soans became the person to get that consent. Unfortunately, this process entailed coming in well before the crack of dawn. As he said, “I always thought that anesthesia and the OR team were the first group to get into the hospital, but the phlebotomists get into the hospital at 3:30 every morning.” To acquire the samples, Dr. Soans had to consent the patients before the phlebotomist arrived and was getting up at 3AM for a month and a half.
“And when you’re alone, there’s a very good chance you’ll meet things that scare you right out of your pants.”
On one of these early mornings Dr. Soans met a patient whom he will long remember. He was going into a patient’s room to explain the risks and benefits of giving blood to the researchers. The patient had been in one of Boyer’s confined rooms for 7 days, without a telephone, and no contact from his family. Dr. Soans could tell the patient was suffering from being isolated and just needed someone to talk to. Not only did Dr. Soans have other patients to see that morning about consents but he knew that spending too much time in the room was risky: “every breath, every cough, you could get Covid.” Not being able to help this gentleman gnawed at him, and he reached out to Temple’s College of Public Health to see what could remedy the boredom and isolation Covid patients were experiencing. Two van loads full of puzzles, iPads, books and more were delivered to Temple to help patients experiencing extreme isolation.
Speaking of isolation, Dr. Soans felt a bit of that himself. With his wife and kids staying at his parents for 7 weeks, Dr. Soans would get to spend one day each week with his family, camping outside his parents’ house only able to chat with his family from a distance. Upon his family’s return to their home, “to me it was the biggest relief ever,” Dr. Soans confided. “I mean I think they were having a ball. The kids were getting spoiled rotten by their grandparents… I was a mess [without them].”
Unfortunately, the problem with “Oh the Places You’ll Go” is that it fails to account for the communal sacrifice and effort required to help “You Go.”
Reflecting on all he was able to do during the pandemic, Dr. Soans was quick to say, “my wife is literally a saint and has facilitated all of this.” He knows he never would have been able to take care of Covid patients or obtain consents if his family were living at home. He thanks his parents for offering to have his family live with them. He thanks the resident’s mother who provided the surgical pod with masks when a shortage meant they would not be receiving any. He realizes Temple could not have responded so well without everyone stepping up in this time of need. “Humanity has a ton of hope,” he said. “There’s a lot of people that are really, really good people in this world.”