Sicker patients, higher risk test doctor’s ‘psyche’

Dr. Scott Zuick

By Eric Berger, Associate Editor

Dr. Scott Zuick, a pulmonologist at BJC Hospitals, treats patients with issues such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, pneumonia and lung cancer. 

And now, of course, COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. 

Some of his practice has shifted to seeing patients remotely using telemedicine technology.

Otherwise, “in general, patients are coming in sicker than they usually do to the hospital,” said Zuick, 40, who belongs to Congregation Temple Israel. “I don’t think it’s because we are not open or available. I think it’s because they are scared to go out – with good reason –because all these patients have comorbidities (which makes COVID-19 a greater risk to them).” 

Volunteer with CASA ad

In addition to seeing patients, Zuick has been helping to develop the hospitals’ respiratory therapy policies for treating COVID. 

“Luckily, I now know if most of the patients have it or not, or if we are concerned about it, we can do testing,” he said. “When this all started, testing was very limited, and there was a much higher concern of having an unknown and maybe not isolating them the same way we are now because there was a learning process.”

One of Zuick’s most difficult pandemic experiences was treating an elderly couple infected with the virus. They got very sick, and eventually, he and his colleagues had to withdraw care and move to providing comfort before they died.

“I lost my father to cancer in an ICU setting,” Zuick said. “It’s one thing to lose one family member. You can cope with that. And when you have elderly parents, at some point you expect them to pass away.

“But to lose them both on the same day, for the same reason, I just think about how that would affect me. It’s just all at once and kind of smacks you right in the face.” 

Zuick and other health care workers at the hospitals have enough personal protective equipment, but “things can still happen,” he said, so he worries about spreading the virus to his wife and their two young children. 

He drives a designated “dirty car” to and from work. His wife drives their other car. When he gets home, he immediately strips down and showers before he interacts with anyone.

To stay calm, Zuick spends times with his wife and children. He also has continued a tradition of getting together with a group of physician friends on Monday nights and watching sports – but now there are no live sports to watch, and they meet over FaceTime.

“We talk about how things are going and kind of decompress,” he said. “I think it’s important to talk about that stuff. It’s sometimes hard to talk about work with other people who don’t totally understand what you go through on a daily basis, being a physician, so that time has been very beneficial to my psyche.”