On Thanksgiving Day, Solon resident Dr. Rami Abbass will walk the halls of University Hospitals Ahuja Medical Center, visiting patients amidst an ongoing worldwide pandemic.
Their stress is often heightened due to fears surrounding the virus, he said, and therefore he provides that extra level of comfort and compassion.
“I am dealing with people who are under a lot of stress, and it affects their perception of their disease,” said Dr. Abbass, 43, a gastroenterologist. The stress also affects how they respond to therapy, he said.
“Under this kind of chronic stress, many elements of their health are affected, and I acknowledge that with every patient,” he said. “I tell them it’s OK to feel things are out of control, but they will get better, giving them that hope.”
A native of Damascus, Syria, who came to the United States in 1987, Dr. Abbass said he remains proud to be on the frontlines of the pandemic and is equally proud of the humanity provided by nurses and other workers.
“I’m proud of my colleagues and feel for them who are under more stress,” he said. Many are dealing with active COVID-19 patients daily, especially those in the area of infectious disease, critical care and in the emergency room. They are worn down and exhausted, he said.
“There’s no hiding from it, and they are also getting very ill and are hospitalized,” Dr. Abbass added of his colleagues. He admires those individuals as well as the nurses he works with at the Endoscopy Center at University Hospitals on East Washington Street in Bainbridge.
“They have gone to work knowing they are taking a risk, and they continue to go to work when their colleagues fall and get ill,” he said.
The pandemic has presented so many changes and challenges in patient care.
Prior to the pandemic, Dr. Abbass would often deliver a cancer diagnosis with his patient’s hands in his or coupled with a hug. That is now becoming more challenging with social distancing and the precautions that must be in place, he said.
As a result, Dr. Abbass works to show empathy while distancing and giving patients all the time they deserve, he said.
The pandemic has resulted in him having to think on multiple dimensions when providing patients the access to their healthcare, Dr. Abbass explained, balancing that access with providing them a safe environment. The practice began with virtual access, having to create relationships with patients over a screen.
“Initially we were not sure what was safe and methods of transmission,” he said. They were only performing urgent procedures at the center as they learned about the protocols to put in place that would provide comfort. Currently, the center is open to fewer procedures that are still necessary for maintenance of health.
“I have diagnosed numerous cancers on screening procedures over the past few months that would have otherwise been delayed and potentially changed the prognosis significantly,” Dr. Abbass said.
Dr. Abbass said he worries daily about bringing the virus home to his wife and four young children, who range in age from 4-12.
“We operate as a family entity,” he said. “Everything my kids do is part of the risk I bring to the office and what I do is the risk I bring home.”
Dr. Abbass said he talks with his family about these risks and makes sure they do all they can to minimize it.
Moving forward, he said of ongoing challenges during the pandemic, “Even today, there is still significant denial among some people about the effects of COVID and its effects on health.
“But we have seen in the hospitals the true effect, which is very significant and detrimental,” he said. “‘You can never be too cautious’ is our approach here.”
When seeing patients with COVID-19, Dr. Abbass takes every precaution, and at times sees them virtually to minimize exposure.
He was drawn to the field of medicine, he said, in order to have the ability to make a difference in people’s lives. That feeling is even more exemplfied in today’s world.
The challenging parts of his career involve delivering hard news, he said, especially those diagnoses that are difficult and lifelong such as inflammatory bowel disease and malignancies.
“At times you have a very early relationship with your patient and you have to tell them they have to be fighting a battle for years to come.
“That is definitely something we see all the time,” he said.
Another challenge is achieving balance between his work and family life, he continued. He carves out time each evening for his children, and tries to do something special with each of them in their areas of interest.
“It’s important to me to have dinner with the family,” he said. “We like to sit at the table and each talk about what we are grateful for that day.
“You try to place certain priorities and stick to a plan, realizing that there is only so much time in a day and giving each part what it deserves,” he said.
He said what he is most thankful for on Thanksgiving Day is he and his family’s health and for his patients. Dr. Abbass said he is also thankful to have the ability to continue to deliver care to his patients.
In an uncertain world, he still has hope, he said.
“As a society, we need to take every extra step possible to get to the finish line,” Dr. Abbass said. “Science will get us out of this, but our behavior in the meantime can make a difference.”