PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — In March 2020, it wasn’t a question but if, but when.
When would Riverside Doctors’ Hospital Williamsburg record its first inpatient case of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, that was sickening and killing people around the world?
Dr. Nehemiah Thrash, a hospitalist with more than a decade of experience, was reviewing patient notes one morning while exercising.
Reading while working out is how he routinely gets a running start on patient care before checking in for duty at the hospital, which has 40 private rooms in the Quarterpath section of Williamsburg.
“She was extremely ill, and I told my team — guys this is it — I really think this may be coronavirus,” said Thrash.
March 10, 2020, Thrash took over care of the patient. Four days later, the diagnosis was confirmed and sadly, she later died.
He studied pandemics, epidemics and endemics at Eastern Virginia Medical School but this was his first experience treating patients during a pandemic. Early treatment protocols reminded him of what he learned about how doctors responded to the HIV crisis of the 1980s.
“I remember the stories of my predecessors going into the rooms wearing these hazmat suits — going into the room scared about what they were about to encounter. It [the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic] was a very similar situation. What flu has done to my patients [collectively] in 12 years, I’ve seen this disease do to people what flu did in a week,” said Thrash.
Early in the pandemic, there was plenty of misinformation but little science to rely on.
“In medical school, this is where the art of medicine comes in,” said Thrash.
Based on science, Thrash started treating patients with steroids in an effort to arrest the dreaded cytokine storm which is a serious complication for COVID-19 patients.
“Steroids made sense based on our studies. It was later proven that steroids actually save lives,” said Thrash.
He said medical interest drugs such as Remdesivir have waned as new therapeutics are being used under emergency use approvals.
“We are starting to see now Remdesivir may not be as beneficial as we would like,” said Thrash, who added the drug has some benefits.
He said more lives will be saved if more people roll up their sleeves to get the coronavirus vaccine. Thrash has been fully vaccinated against a virus that has disproportionally sickened or killed minorities.
A product of Churchland High School in Portsmouth and Virginia Tech, Thrash also encourages minorities to follow his lead and enter the field of medicine.
“I was born in Portsmouth, Virginia, and if you are a young girl or boy, it is very possible [to become a doctor] because I am here. We have to have a representation of multiple cultures in the field of medicine,” said Thrash.