SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – While the state announced this past weekend that many medical centers are seeing the rate of COVID-19-related hospitalizations decrease, slightly, health care workers on the front line feel the transition from ‘crisis care’ to ‘standard measures’ is still a long way off.

“Everyday, is different and you never really know what you are walking into,” borough native Kyle McMahon, a member of the high school’s Class of 2008, told TAPinto South Plainfield. 

A full-time cardiac surgery physician assistant who typically works in the intensive care unit (ICU) at Robert Wood Johnson (RWJ) in New Brunswick, McMahon has, since March, refocused his critical care skills to help support the large influx of COVID-19 patients in the medical ICU at both RWJ and Hackensack Medical Center. 

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“On most days we have more than 20 patients; two patients to each room; all on ventilators. Most are proned (upside down to support oxygenation)…” McMahon stated on his LinkedIn page. “Patients are both young and old. Patients are dying alone.”

In the early stages of the crisis, McMahon himself was exposed to the virus from a colleague who tested positive. At that time, he was in between apartments and temporarily staying with family. Concerned for their health, he spent over a week living out of an old RV parked in his driveway - no hot water, no shower, no stove, and no toilet - before moving into his current Jersey City apartment.

“You are worried about your patients, your friends, and your family and as a provider you feel obligated to protect all of them,” McMahon, who even a month later has still not regained his sense of taste or smell, said. “While many people fortunately get a very mild disease, recover, and do fine, others aren’t as lucky….”

Following high school, McMahon, the son of Brian and Kim McMahon and older brother of Lindsay McMahon, went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in multi-disciplinary studies at East Stroudsburg University and a masters degree in physician assistant from Quinnipiac University. He completed a surgical residency with the Yale University School of Medicine, serving in Yale New Haven Hospital and, over the course of his career, has worked as an emergency room technician at Pocono Medical Center and RWJ – New Brunswick.

Since 2018, he’s served as a physician assistant for cardiac surgery at RWJ – New Brunswick and, last month, also took on a position as a critical care physician assistant at Hackensack University Medical Center.

According to the South Plainfield native, caring for COVID patients is ‘completely different’ from what frontline healthcare workers typically experience on a given day. In his four years of practicing medicine, including covering 24-hour in house trauma calls at Yale and now working full time on a very busy, high acuity cardiac surgical service, McMahon said ‘nothing comes close.’

“This is unprecedented and no one has seen anything like this in the last 100 years,” he told TAPinto.

For those in the medical field, said McMahon, the biggest challenge associated with COVID is that there are so many unknowns. Healthcare workers, he said, are used to - and are relatively good at - treating diseases they know a lot about - i.e. heart disease, lung disease, kidney disease. At the same time, he said, they also have a pretty good idea of how many patients they are going to treat on a given day and can be prepared in terms of resources.

Such is not the case with COVID, he said. “Now, we have a disease that we know very little about, is very contagious, and makes a lot of people sick,” said McMahon, adding, “So not only are we learning how to treat this disease on the fly, but we are also worrying about our resources - ICU beds, staff, medications, ventilators - to keep people alive.”

While the past two months have been nothing short of ‘emotional and overwhelming’ at times, McMahon said there have been positives along the way. “From a new mother getting extubated and seeing her FaceTime with her newborn to being with patients as they pass so they don’t die alone to the 1,000-plus discharged patients and over 50 people extubated as of [last] week at one hospital,” he said, adding, “Everyone in the medical community is stepping up and selflessly pushing forward. It’s extremely inspiring.”

While his intention is ‘not to scare anyone,’ McMahon said he wants people to know ‘this virus is not a joke’ and ‘until there is a vaccine, social distancing is the only way to save lives and prevent a second surge.’

“Both young and old people are dying, and they are dying alone. I understand people want to get back to living their lives, but we need to continue to take this seriously even after restrictions are lifted,” he said, adding, “That's why social distancing and flattening the curve to reduce the strain on the healthcare system has been so important.”

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