The Daily Press has launched a series of interviews with essential workers who are working bravely and diligently to keep the Santa Monica community functioning.

Walid Ghurabi is the chief of the emergency medicine at UCLA Health Santa Monica where he has worked since 1981. He is originally from Lebanon and worked exceedingly hard to gain his credentials, achieving a scholarship to study public health in Beirut, completing a US undergraduate degree, working in Michigan for two years to qualify for in-state tuition, and then entering medical school and completing residency. Most of Dr. Ghurabi and his wife’s family members left Lebanon due to the civil war and several settled in the Santa Monica community, which the two of them love to call home.

What attracted you to emergency medicine?

When I was an undergraduate in Big Rapids Michigan I used to work as an orderly, which is basically a male helper in the hospital that changes bags, cleans old people, and does all the mundane things that the nurse is too busy to do. The farm accidents that we used to see there were horrendous. The blood and guts and the immediacy of doing something that saves lives is really what attracted me to emergency medicine. You can save a 40-year-old one afternoon and he can go back and be with his family providing for them and they will not lose a loved one.

What has your experience been like working in the ER during the pandemic?

On the Westside in March and April the only thing we saw was less patients. Our volume dropped almost by half initially as people avoided coming to the ER because they were scared. But this past surge is very difficult to handle and emotionally it’s dragging everybody down. We are basically at capacity. You see death every day and you see all varieties of age groups being sick. I also work with the City as an advisor for the fire department paramedics. I teach them all the things we are teaching folks about how to protect yourself when you are doing procedures on Covid patients.

What does a day on the job look like right now?

I get up around 4:30 a.m. to be at work at 6 a.m. and I stay until 4 p.m. Yesterday seven Covid patients ended up either in the ICU or the emergency unit because all these people were not able to oxygenate.

I had to intubate (place a tube in a windpipe through mouth or nose to oxygenate lungs) a 91-year-old patient yesterday and I really felt that I wasn’t doing him a great favor but the family wanted it, so I did it, and it kept me awake last night. We also use extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO). We go in and put a big pipe in the femoral artery and femoral vein and put the patient on a heart lung machine. You can intubate, you can put them on high flow oxygen, and if all forms of oxygenation fail ECMO is used.

These are all things we learn from Covid, we are getting good at it, but I wish we didn’t. I wish all this goes away and we go back to normal and be able to see our patients without our face masks, visors, shields, gloves and gowns on; it’s really impersonal.

How has your hospital adapted to cope with the current surge?

We were one of the earliest hospitals on the Westside that created an ER outside of our ER in our parking lot. We have patient rooms, x-rays and a waiting room all with tents, heaters and lights. We worked on it for a good six weeks way back in March, so we were ready. We have all of our Covid patients outside unless they are really sick.

What do you wish people understood about your job?

The only thing, and I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but the biggest favor you can do for all the ER doctors in Santa Monica is to please wear a mask, socially distance, wash your hands, and avoid gatherings. It gives me comfort when I go out and I see folks with masks on. I feel so happy when I see that; it’s like someone is rewarding me.

What are you most looking forward to doing again when the pandemic ends?

Being able to be with friends and family to enjoy a meal together. The immediate thing I am looking forward to is tomorrow, as I get my second vaccine tomorrow. I had no ill effects from the first vaccine. I did not even have a sore arm. I wish we can get it together and get everybody vaccinated as that will be the best thing we can do for our folks.

clara@smdp.com