Like most at Keck Medicine of USC during the coronavirus outbreak, the inpatient team at the USC Caruso Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery is working differently now than it ever has. One constant: the compassionate care and clinical expertise when faced with a life-and-death situation for one of their patients.

An established patient of multiple providers at Keck Medicine, who had a history of head and neck cancer, was admitted to another area hospital earlier in March. She initially had general flu-like symptoms, but began having nosebleeds so severe that she required blood transfusions and intubation. On March 20, she was transferred to Keck Hospital of USC for a higher level of care.

Because of her initial symptoms, the attending physician ordered a COVID-19 oropharyngeal swab test, from the back of the throat, which was negative.

That’s when Christine Park, PA, and the inpatient otolaryngology team stepped in. They stabilized the patient and stopped the hemorrhaging, then continued to watch over her throughout the day. That same night, Park and the team — which also included two residents and seven members of the rapid response team — went home, but later received calls that the patient’s second COVID test, the nasopharyngeal swab, from the upper part of the throat behind the nose, was positive. Park and the other team members were tested for COVID-19 soon after.

“I’ve been quarantining since the minute I received the phone call,” Park said. “I whisked myself and the rest of my dinner upstairs, and my parents have been wonderful at feeding me delicious Korean food! They are primarily remaining downstairs since my room is upstairs; I wipe everything down with Lysol before I give it to them, and we are trying to use disposable plates.”

But Park did not simply bide her time in quarantine. “I’ve been remotely assisting in my patients’ care through telemedicine,” she said. “Also, as the sole inpatient PA for otolaryngology, I am also providing remote assistance for my team members who round in the hospital.”

John S. Oghalai, MD, chair of the USC Caruso Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, was quick to give praise. “I want to thank the members of this team for demonstrating excellence under pressure,” Oghalai said. “Thinking about selfless acts like this can sustain us during this pandemic by reminding us why we got into medicine in the first place.”

Park’s COVID-19 test results were negative and she is back at work in the hospital, caring for patients as normally as anyone can at this time. “I don’t see myself as a hero in any regard. In the hospital, all of us, from physicians to PAs to nurses and technicians, just continue to do what we signed up for: providing care to patients,” she said. “As the country is encouraged to socially distance in an effort to flatten the curve and avoid transmission, we continue to care for patients, with a current known COVID positive or negative status. We are humans treating other humans, and whatever our personal fears, we’re rising to the call of duty.”

— Amanda Busick