Fellow Health Partners Honors Dr. Elaine Yang

“When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, I knew that my husband and I would be on the front lines with so many other committed medical professionals. My husband is an ICU specialist, and I am an anesthesiologist with specialty training in ICU. When we saw how bad it was going to be, we realized that we might have to send our children away so we could help all the patients we anticipated arriving at the hospital. It was going to be 18-hour workdays”, says Dr. Elaine Yang, recollecting those difficult times at the beginning of the Covid pandemic. She adds, “And we didn’t know when we might be able to bring our kids back once they were gone.”

Dr. Yang and her husband reasoned that if they both got sick in those early days – a high possibility – there would be no one to care for their young children. She wondered, “Would we get sick and die in the ICU?”. She was also concerned that if her children got sick, there would be no one to care for them. Despite her worries, both she and her husband knew their responsibilities as doctors – to serve those who needed help. “New York was so bad with the virus that they were asking for any ICU person they could get, which meant we’d be working with teams of brave volunteers who were each making their own sacrifices.”

She continues, “I had a sister in Singapore, so I took our children, flew halfway around the world, spent a day, left our children, turned around and 36 hours later, I was back home in New York with my husband, working in the ICU. Even though I worried, back then it seemed like Singapore had Covid under control, so I felt at least our kids were safe.”

But it wasn’t that easy.

“What I didn’t realize was how hard it would be to bring our children back to the U.S. as the world went into lockdown and then slowly started to come out of it.”, she added. “Even after things started improving, the months went by and we were hit by bureaucracy, mandates, international travel restrictions, quarantines, and so much more. All this time, we worried about our kids and our patients while the virus took its toll.

“As the months ticked by, we tried to keep in touch with our children using Zoom and Facetime, juggling 18-hour workdays and an 11-hour time difference, working to maintain contact. We even played virtual Barbies with our 3-year-old daughter to stay engaged. Every little bit helped.

“When things started to turn around, it took months more until we could finally get to Singapore and when we did, our youngest child didn’t even remember her father. The good news is that it didn’t take long till they bonded again and eventually, after quarantine, we got safely home.”

When asked whether it was worth it, Dr. Yang didn’t hesitate. “It was our job as doctors”, she said, adding, “There were so many of us working together, doing anything necessary to help.

“Surgeons worked like the most junior members of our team. One of the top surgeons tried to learn how to do ultrasound of lower extremity veins – learned the procedure so he could diagnose blood clots. People were so outside their comfort zones with long hours and unfamiliar roles. Spine surgeons were recruited to flip patients on their stomachs because they did it every day in their practice. We were learning that flipping could save lives. Everyone worked together with a lot of humility and grace and no complaints.”

She continues, “There was nothing special about me and my husband. Everyone gave everything. The best moments were when patients recovered, even though they might have a long recovery period. It was so sad when someone didn’t make it and we tried to comfort the families before going back into the ICU again. It seemed so unfair.”
Dr. Yang says she would do it all again if it could save lives. Along with all those courageous, hard-working doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals who sacrificed so much to help so many, they made a difference.

Thanks to the doctors and nurses everywhere who risked so much to help so many. And thank you Dr. Elaine Yang for your Profile in Caring.