Drew Zimmer wanted to be a pharmacist because of “the magic” of medicine.
Like most people in health care, he loves fixing problems. As an
Infectious Disease pharmacist, there is a satisfaction in delivering solutions
COVID-19 has made that satisfaction harder to find.
The novel coronavirus has been with us for only a few months. Experts around the world are working to develop treatments as our understanding of the virus improves.
New evidence is coming to light constantly, and pharmacists are among the professionals who are working through a dynamic situation.
“We are all trying to keep up with literature and data on what is best for patients,” Zimmer says. “For infectious disease pharmacists, I feel like this is our time.”
Traditionally, infectious disease pharmacists focused on studying blood cultures and working with infectious disease physicians to make sure patients are treated effectively. At CoxHealth, they also have worked extensively on antibiotic stewardship, helping physicians guard against medication overuse.
In 2020, though, they have been navigating the rapidly changing advice about treatments for COVID-19.
“The recommendations change weekly or daily,” Zimmer says.
ID pharmacists work to determine who will benefit from treatments like remdesivir, coordinating closely with ID physicians to educate providers.
The science of ID pharmacy is complicated by the severity of the pandemic and the social and political pressure to find solutions.
“There has been a lot of panic, and that has driven a lot of the political divide in our country,” he says.
You see that pressure play out in recommendations around treatments like hydroxychloroquine.
Initial papers about hydroxychloroquine combined with azithromycin indicated some benefit. On closer inspection, some of the studies didn’t meet the usual standards.
“When we recommend something, it’s because there has been evidence and studies. The treatments have to be proven safe and effective,” Zimmer says.
“It’s hard on all of us because there is no magic bullet we can use. We do all we can, but there is no single treatment that we know will work.”
‘IT WEARS ON ALL OF US’
Zimmer loves the history of medicine. He remembers studying an early case of staph, in which a little girl was treated with penicillin.
“Just seeing her go from being at death’s door to being a little kid again. That magic drew me to it,” he says.
One of his great grandfathers worked as a roofer and got a staph infection from holding nails in his mouth.
“That’s the kind of thing we can treat today. We can change people’s lives.”
Zimmer and others in the field are looking forward to a day when COVID-19 can be treated just as successfully. Right now, though, it is challenging.
“We are unfortunately seeing patients die. We are seeing the effects of COVID that are ignored by the public,” he says.
The public likes to focus on the mortality rate, pointing out that it can seem “low.” That rate doesn’t tell the whole story.
“This disease tears your lungs up. People don’t see how many patients have to go home on oxygen. Or how many have lost jobs. Or how many have PTSD and psychological issues because of what they went through.”
Zimmer and his colleagues get to know the patients. They are treating them, and rooting for them.
“It wears on all of us. When the outcome isn’t great, it affects us. Not always having the right answers is the hardest thing for all of us.”
Zimmer says months of facing a pandemic can take its toll. When he hears people in the community and social media acting like COVID-19 isn’t serious, it’s infuriating.
Like so many of us, pride in CoxHealth’s mission keeps him driving forward.
“What keeps you coming back are the patients,” he says. “For our patients and our team, I want to be here to help however I can.”
Even as the situation evolves, he says the team is more confident than ever.
“CoxHealth did an incredible job preparing for what’s going on
now. Places like New York didn’t have a chance to prepare like we did,” he
says. “The expertise we bring as a team is helping people. Dr. Trotman is
ID pharmacist partner Melissa Steenhoek is incredible. The
hospitalists are incredible. We have all come together as a team.”
He sees the spirit of teamwork and pride all around him in his
“There are so many people making a difference, from respiratory therapists, to scheduling, cleaning the rooms. People are doing an amazing job. We need to make sure people know we see them and we know what they are doing. Everybody in the hospital needs to be thanked.”