“It’s like out of movie,” Dr. Manuel Dominguez H’81 said of the special COVID-19 unit set up at Parkland Hospital in Dallas, Texas.
Dominguez is a hospitalist at Parkland. He described his position as an internal medicine specialist that works strictly for the hospital. He is assigned to the temporary COVID-19 unit set up at Parkland, which is part of the UT (University of Texas) Southwestern Medical Center.
When national conferences started being cancelled because of the coronavirus threat, Dominguez said the hospital administration and staff started rolling out its action plan. A specific set of doctors and nurses were designated to handle any potential coronavirus patients to prevent it from spreading through the entire medical staff. At first, a hospital floor was designated for COVID-19 patients, but when elective surgeries were halted, that section of the hospital was converted into a special unit.
“It’s actually a hospital inside a hospital,” he explained. It handles all the cases – from critical care to intermediate care to a general ward. The facility has temporary walls and has been hermetically sealed off from the rest of the facility.
The on-duty staff prepares by entering a special dressing area where a nurse assists them with putting on all the personal protective equipment. Once a person is fully “gowned up,” Dominguez said, the nurse leaves and the staff member walks through the sealed section.
The COVID-19 unit is large, he added, so it has never reached capacity. Plus Dallas has not developed into a hot spot like New York, New Orleans, Chicago, and Detroit. And, as physicians learn more about the virus and treatment options, the number of ventilators has not been an issue. But, that doesn’t mean that some of the more serious patients have not required intubation, he added.
Those people with pre-existing conditions like diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, and tobacco users are suffering the most, he said.
What he has noticed about COVID-19 is how fast people can go from talking and breathing normally to requiring “high flow oxygen,” which is having the air forced into your lungs through your nose. “It can be just a matter of hours,” he explained.
But Dominguez has also seen patients recover equally as fast. One 29-year-old woman went from being on high flow oxygen on her fifth day to only one-third on her sixth day, and being discharged to go home on the seventh day of her hospitalization.
Dominguez believes there will be a second wave after restrictions are loosened. But he is encouraged by how much the treatment of COVID-19 has changed in such a short time. The UT Southwestern group is keeping everyone up on the latest findings and diagnoses; test times have dropped from five days to just a few hours. It all adds up to better patient outcomes.
“We are really learning from this disease,” he said.