By Rafael J. Fernandez, Jr., MD

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the world recognized first responders for the heroes they are and for the care they provide. First responders are often a patient’s first exposure with the medical system. This point of contact usually occurs under unexpected circumstances, as a result of a potentially life-threatening event that may not be evident to the patient. They provide the initial evaluation, at times initiate care directed by physicians at the hospital, and provide comfort and reassurance as an anxious patient is transferred to the hospital.

As a physician, sooner or later, circumstances occur in our lives in which we occupy the role of patient, requiring medical services rather than rendering care. These are humbling events, which bring to light to us, as well as our patients, that physicians are human and are not immune to infirmity. Acknowledging this fact is neither pleasant nor easy to accept. This situation affected me as well as a close family member during the past year.

Looking forward to a short weekend getaway with my wife on a cruise ship, we arrived in our cabin, not to be welcomed by a fruit basket or a fruity island drink, but rather to a condition which required that I be expeditiously taken off the ship. I was met on the port by a fire rescue team from the Port of Miami. I was immediately evaluated and transported to the hospital. The entire team was courteous, compassionate, and highly professional.

Shortly after this incident, my elderly aunt, who at the time was living semi-independently, fell and struck her head on a metal table, causing a significant laceration on her scalp. Her aide, with the assistance of the Superintendent of the building, activated the Emergency Medical System by calling 911. A Fire Rescue Crew from Key Biscayne, led by Lieutenant Torres, promptly arrived at the scene and evaluated her condition. Lieutenant Torres, as well as her crew, were again courteous, compassionate, and highly professional. Lieutenant Torres and her crew’s assessment were essential in the coordination of her care as they transported her to the hospital.

Both my aunt and I have recovered from our respective unexpected events, thanks in part to the incredible job of the first responders, as well as to the medical personnel at the respective hospitals to which we were transported.

Sometimes we overlook how important our First Responders are, and how fortunate we are in South Florida to have such great teams helping people in their time of need and getting them transferred as appropriate.

The Dade County Medical Association (DCMA) continues to champion access to quality medical care for patients in our community. Especially in urgent situations, it is critically important that patients access the highest qualified healthcare professionals who can offer the timely and quality services the patient deserves.

As President of the Dade County Medical Association, I want to express my gratitude to the first responders who came to my, as well as to my aunt’s, assistance. Additionally, I would like to publicly recognize all first responders in Miami-Dade County for their dedication, compassion and the professional service they provide our community, not only during times of international crisis, but on a daily basis.

Dr. Rafael J. Fernandez, Jr., is President of Dade County Medical Association.