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Omonele Nwokolo, MD

Associate Professor of Anesthesiology

A lot changed for me professionally and personally in 2020. Professionally, I became the new operating room director at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center. That was a big step in my career and just as I was starting that, COVID-19 started. So, my welcome to the job was now having to manage anesthesia and surgery with a new challenge of a global pandemic.

We quickly formed committees to figure out what we needed to do to get patients tested and how to best staff the OR. With evolving knowledge of transmission of the COVID-19 virus and need to conserve PPE, we formed teams for intubation, with one person going from one operating room to another intubating and extubating patients. Due to the unknown nature of the virus at the beginning of the pandemic, and not knowing what to expect, there was a lot of fear and concern. There was a lot of reassuring and handholding to get through it. I lead a perioperative subcommittee as part of a larger Back to Work task force for Memorial Hermann, looking at how to socially distance patients in the waiting room and how to stagger patients heading into the operating rooms when we were allowed to resume elective surgeries again. Despite a few COVID infections, we were lucky to have no serious morbidity or fatalities in our department – this is a huge blessing and one of the things I am most proud and happy about.

“I’ve just learned you have to manage life – things will come at you; you can either let it destroy you, or you can face it.”

My Anesthesiology colleagues rose to the occasion during this pandemic. I saw amazing teamwork from my partners – we were going into an airway of a patient that we know has a disease that could potentially kill us, and we still did what we needed to do. I learned people are selfless and resilient.

I also had personal tribulations during 2020. My 9-year- old daughter was diagnosed with an ankle tumor in May 2020. The pandemic actually helped us to get used to social distancing and not mixing with other kids. She went through chemotherapy all this year, and the pandemic life with masks and online school made life not too different from her classmates. She’s almost at the end of chemotherapy now, and I am glad we have successfully navigated all of that.

Another traumatic experience this year was that my husband and his parents were diagnosed with COVID-19 near Christmas. My husband was actually an inpatient on the COVID unit at Memorial Hermann, so I would go by and peek at him before and after my shift. What I learned is that everyone, from Dr. Colasurdo, Dr. Eltzschig, Dr. Patel, Dr. Xavier, the ICU doctors, and all of my colleagues were just a text away. Everyone rallied
to support us. I wouldn’t have wanted to be in any other institution but here when it happened.

This has been a challenging year personally and professionally. I’ve just learned you have to manage life – things will come at you; you can either let it destroy you, or you can face it. Then use it to build strength and resilience and keep it moving. You have to look at silver linings. That is the lesson I have learned during this incredible year.