NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. — After four intense surges of coronavirus cases in the past two years, currently there is not a single patient with COVID-19 at Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center (NFMMC). Hospital staff and administrators are cautiously optimistic.
"Presently it seems like we're in the aftermath of a 24 month COVID tsunami," said NFMMC President and CEO Joseph Ruffolo. He was quick to say the captain steering the ship through the tsunami was Dr. Zubair Shaikh, MD.
"We navigated the rough waters just by being together," said Shaikh, hospitalist director at NFMMC. "I'm just part of a piece of the puzzle."
Shaikh admits in his 13 years at the hospital, nothing has been more challenging than the pandemic.
"The treatment modality changed. What was recommended initially was not recommended after that," Shaikh said. "We just didn't know what to expect. So the fear of the unknown was always stressful."
So how did he manage it all? Colleagues, like Doctor of Nursing Practice Alicia Scott, say when patient loads were overwhelming, staff was lean and PPE was scarce, no job was too small for Dr. Shaikh.
"He would be dietary. He would be the aide. He would be in there taking their vital signs so they wouldn't have to. He would be in there sometimes even feeding the patient. Whatever he needed to do. He stepped outside of his boundaries of being just the physician. He was the bedside physician," said Scott, DNP. "He doesn't care about your socio-economic status. He treats each and every patient the same. His love, care and compassion for each and every one of them is unchanged and it's unmatched."
Scott said Shaikh supported his fellow staff members just as much as he supported the patients.
"There was a lot of anxiety, fear, concern, worry, and stress. We all needed more support and he was that support person," she said.
Ruffolo said Shaikh had a way of never letting patients know he was overburdened by sometimes two or three times the normal amount of patients.
"Dr. Shaikh found the time to spend as much time as needed with the families to make them comfortable," Ruffolo said.
That was particularly important in end of life situations and family couldn't be there. Dr. Shaikh would set up Facetime or Zoom calls with the patients and loved ones, climb into bed with them, hold their hand, sing songs, and pray. He would become a family member when they needed one most.
"When you treat patients, you treat them as if they are your family. So if that patient is my mother or my father, what would I do? I would take that extra step to sit next to them. I would take that extra step to call their family members. Give them a food tray, give them water, give them a blanket. It all comes down to that. You treat every patient as if they're your family member, then you will give your best," Shaikh said. "You just have to show a lot of compassion, a lot of empathy, just love for the patient and the family members."
Shaikh would work 18 or even 24 hour shifts when needed and he said he never took a day off during the pandemic. He wouldn't be able to do that, he said, without the support of his wife and two teenage children.
He also thanks his colleagues as he's being recognized in the 2 On Your Side Selfless Among Us series.
"This recognition, I think it's more for the whole team. It's not just my effort. It's my colleagues effort," he said. "Showing professional compassion, professional empathy, that's what got us through this."
If you'd like to nominate someone to be featured in 2 On Your Side's "Selfless Among Us" series, email details to Melissa.Holmes@wgrz.com.
To see previous "Selfless Among Us" honorees, click the video links below: