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A Doctor's COVID-19 Journey

From His Own Bout of COVID-19 to Volunteering in a New York Hospital at the Height of the Surge, a Physician Shares What He Learned from the Pandemic


Join us Thursday, June 11 at 10:30 a.m. for an Instagram Live with Oren Friedman, MD, on the @CedarsSinai Instagram account!

Oren Friedman, MD, recovered from COVID-19, then volunteered at a New York hospital.

As New York begins to reopen, Oren Friedman, MD, finds himself thinking back to his recent journey to the Big Apple.  

It all started in mid-March when, after working just one week in the COVID-19 Intensive Care Unit at Cedars-Sinai, Friedman began experiencing early symptoms of the virus.

“I feared the worst,” said Friedman, 43, associate director of cardiac surgery in the Smidt Heart Institute intensive care unit. “The day before I showed symptoms, I put a patient who was younger than me on a ventilator. At this point, we knew little about the disease and how infectious it was.”

When Friedman fell ill, his first instinct was to say he was just tired and stressed. But by the next day, it become clear to him that something more was happening. He quickly put himself in quarantine at home, ensuring he did not come in contact with his wife – a fellow healthcare worker – and their three children aged 9, 7 and 5. 

“It was awful, worse than any illness I have ever had,” said Friedman, who also serves as associate professor of pulmonary and critical care medicine. “The body aches, extreme exhaustion, coughing and fever were terrible; yet I knew how fortunate I was not to require hospitalization like so many of the patients I had treated.”

As the days dragged on in quarantine, Friedman regularly communicated with his former colleagues at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, where he completed his fellowship training and served as an intensive care specialist for seven years before joining Cedars-Sinai.

“With each day that passed, I felt an overwhelming obligation to serve the New York community and work alongside my former colleagues, knowing how hard-hit and overwhelmed they were,” said Friedman. “As soon as I felt well and my energy increased, I applied for emergency privileges to work in the state of New York and volunteer at NewYork-Presbyterian.”

Less than one week after offering his services, Friedman was on a flight to New York City. It took just 30-minutes for him to travel from John F. Kennedy International Airport to the hospital, a drive that under normal circumstances could take hours.

“The streets were empty, and businesses were boarded up,” recalls Friedman. “It was eerie and no longer felt like the home I once knew.”

At the hospital, Friedman worked in an ICU unit. Spending seven days working in New York, Friedman says, was like “taking five years of learnings and cramming it into one week.”

“Both in New York and here at Cedars-Sinai, COVID-19 presents a situation where you cannot survive without your colleagues,” said Friedman. “I continue to witness the people working on the front lines meeting unprecedented challenges with extraordinarily creative solutions, grace and humility.”

Of all the healthcare heroes working with COVID-19 patients, Friedman underscores the value of his nursing colleagues.

“Nurses are the first ones running into a room as a delirious patient coughs and sneezes,” said Friedman. “Nurses are giving every ounce of their physical and emotional being to help the most critically ill patients, spending the most time at the bedside. They are true heroes.”

The other heroes, Friedman said, are members of the community who comply with recommendations to wear a mask while out in public.

“Coronavirus is a horrible, lingering virus that will require extensive rehabilitation for patients who survive,” said Friedman. “In honor of those we have lost, and in support of the healthcare workers continuing to treat patients, please wear a mask to protect yourself and those with whom you may come in contact.”

Read more on the Cedars-Sinai Blog: Understanding COVID-19 Vocabulary