During the early days of the coronavirus pandemic in Israel last month, Dr. Shaul Lev – covered head-to-toe in protective gear – appeared before a patient and told the man: “I have come to take you with me.”
“He almost fainted! Here I am, this big guy in a spacesuit saying I’ve come to take him,” Lev says of his stunned COVID-19 patient. “I understood then that we would need a better way to communicate with our patients,” adds Lev, director of the intensive care unit at the Sharon Hospital in Petah Tikva.
The hospital, which is part of the Rabin Medical Center along with the Beilinson Hospital, has become Israel’s only “coronavirus hospital.” It is totally dedicated to treating COVID-19 patients after being converted into a 200-bed facility last month.
After his interaction with the shocked patient, Lev decided that his ICU team should wear photographs of themselves on their protective suits so patients could see who was caring for them; that there were real people under those white coveralls, plastic face shields, masks and gloves.
He took photos of his colleagues on his cellphone, someone took one of him, and he printed them out on the department printer in black and white.
“We thought it was the right thing to do,” Lev says. He then posed for a photo with two colleagues, Dr. Gal Shahaf and Noa Ben Noon, the department’s supervising nurse.
Having their photos on their protective garb also helps fellow staff members identify who is who – vital information at a time when crucial decisions are made quickly and often. It’s part of the overall effort, Lev says, to humanize both the staff and the patients.
Appropriately enough, the photo of the three colleagues has since gone viral, both in Israel and worldwide. Similar images of other medical staff have also been widely shared, yet while it is impossible to know who came up with the initial idea, it appears that the photo of Lev and his colleagues helped spread the concept.
When their photo appeared on Reddit, for example, it received over 80,000 “upvotes.”
According to Lev, the practice is now being used in at least one other Israeli hospital – Meir Hospital in Kfar Sava. Elsewhere, a doctor at a San Diego hospital has posted photos of himself wearing his photo laminated to his personal protective equipment, while a Brooklyn hospital asked its employees to do likewise, according to staff there.
Rabin Medical Center’s PR digital manager, Sivan Avukay, says the image of Lev and colleagues went viral after it was posted on the center’s Instagram account.
Soon after the first coronavirus patients started arriving at the converted hospital, the PR team decided to use the account to document how the medical staff was coping daily with being on the frontline against the pandemic.
“So often the images one sees in the media from hospitals depict scenes of hysteria or heroism. But there are lots of smaller human moments,” Avukay says. The photo of Lev and his colleagues is one such example, she notes.
The photo has been shared across social media platforms. Writing on one Instagram account, a commenter wrote: “What a compassionate and personal touch to patient care during this horrible COVID-19 pandemic.”
Other commenters, though, have been equally struck by the PPE the medical staff are wearing, since it has been in short supply in some hospitals internationally. One person wrote on Instagram: “This is the way our health care workers in the U.S. should be dressed.”