Working the Front Lines: Ki Jinn Chin, Anesthesiologist, Toronto Western Hospital

RSGC parent Ki Jinn Chin, father of Xander ’22, has what is considered one of the most dangerous jobs of the COVID-19 pandemic. As an anesthesiologist, his current role at Toronto Western Hospital is performing intubations on COVID patients. According to Jinn, it’s a procedure that requires skill to perform safely, but the stakes are much higher now with COVID – both for the patient and the anesthesiologist.
“COVID patients are more hypoxemic, which means oxygen levels in the blood are much lower because the disease has ravaged the lungs. When we do the procedure, we make them unconscious, so they’re not aware of us putting the tube into their windpipe. There’s an interval between them becoming unconscious and us putting the tube in. During this interval, they are not breathing – apnea – and that’s potentially very dangerous as their oxygen levels can fall to critical levels,” said Jinn. To manage this risk, the University Hospital Network (UHN) hospitals now have dedicated Intubation Teams led by anesthesiologists 24/7, and Jinn has played a major role in developing and staffing those teams. “There’s also the risk to healthcare workers. We’re all dressed in PPE, which makes our procedures more difficult.”
Jinn says the element of risk is always at the back of his mind. 
“We’re treating fewer patients than we would do normally, but every patient is that much more difficult to manage because of the PPE we’re wearing and the fact that patients are more fragile. At the back of our minds is also the slight anxiety that we might get infected as well,” said Jinn. “Anesthesiology is kind of like flying – most of the time, it’s pretty routine, but sometimes there’s bad weather – and right now we are flying through a thunderstorm!”
Jinn says that COVID has had a huge impact on the conduct of surgical operations because anesthetizing and operating on a patient inevitably involves exposure to bodily fluids that potentially carry viruses and other infective organisms.
“This increases the risk to healthcare workers, but also the risk of cross-transmission between consecutive surgical patients. The new reality involves extensive testing and screening of patients, appropriate PPE for operating room staff, and meticulous decontamination of the operating room environment between cases,” said Jinn. “It’s been a challenging process of adaptation, but at Toronto Western Hospital, and across UHN, we have reached the point where we have well-defined protocols and standard operating procedures that are allowing us to deliver timely, efficient and most importantly, safe care.”
Jinn doesn’t worry too much when he goes home to his family, however. Before he heads home after work, he changes, washes his hands and behaves normally.
“I think it would be pretty stressful if I weren’t coming back to some kind of normality. I can afford to be a little bit more relaxed because I don’t have elderly parents or people with chronic illness living with us. My wife and I are fortunate to be in good health,” said Jinn. “We try to prioritize staying healthy during this time, which is one of the things that everyone can do during COVID, which generally means getting some exercise, eating well and sleeping enough. Even when this is over, COVID will be out there in the community. We should all be thinking about how we can protect ourselves.”
And like most other essential workers, Jinn is grateful for the support being given by members of the public and the country.
“I think in Canada, we’ve been very good about supporting our people who are on the front lines. I’ve had a lot of gratitude from the patients I’ve been in contact with. Many of the food outlets in hospitals have been giving away free coffees and snacks to healthcare workers,” he said. “The public has been great in terms of showing their appreciation for the job we are doing.”
Thank you, Jinn, for all that you do!