A Doctor’s Perspective: WWU Alumnus Edward Rippe (’11) and COVID-19 from the Frontline

Edward Rippe (’11) chose to attend Western the first time he set foot on campus. Nine years later, as a practicing emergency room physician in Brooklyn, he is certain he made the right decision.

“I was a pre-med major. However, at the end of my second year, I did not feel I was ready to pursue medicine, if at all,” he said. “I became more interested in economics, so I majored in that instead.” 

And while economics may not seem like a natural path to medicine, Rippe has benefitted tremendously from his major as a foundation for his work as a physician.

“Julia Hansen was my mentor in the economics department. She, along with Steve Henson, John Krieg, and Allen Sleeman were all amazing professors who helped me develop my understanding of economics,” said Rippe. “I may be a medical doctor, but I still think economics is the most useful degree one can pursue in order to gain a broad understanding of most major issues in the world as well as providing the skill set to speculate and an ability to understand multiple sides of an argument.”

The outdoor enthusiast also took up sailing at Western.

“I joined the Western sailing team and taught sailing classes out at the Lakewood boathouse on Lake Whatcom. Sailing was one of the greatest things I learned in college, and it’s something I still do to this day when I have time,” he said.

But one of the biggest gifts Western gave Rippe was that of perspective. 

“I didn’t know much at 18. I liked the location — it was close to home but not too close. It was affordable,” he shared. “At the end of the day, having worked alongside many from bigger universities with brand names, I’ve come to discover that the education and ability to think critically that I received at Western is on par with, and oftentimes superior to, what some of my colleagues received at big name institutions.”

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In recent months, Rippe has battled COVID-19 in one of the hardest-hit areas of New York. In the early days of the pandemic, he went from a set residency schedule to an emergency rotation of three days on, one day off, with 13-hour days. Not only was his schedule grueling, he contracted COVID-19, and had to manage his recovery, return to work as quickly as possible without infecting other staff and patients, and deal with the stress and pace of the pandemic. 

“On one particular day during the peak of the pandemic, I was involved in eight Code Blues. I cannot recall who survived and who died that day, but I remember having dinner that night and feeling the sensation in my hands of patients’ ribs cracking as I pressed on their chests trying to bring them back to life,” he said.

Every day in New York, thousands of residents gather on their stoops, rooftops, fire escapes, and in their windows to cheer for healthcare workers like Rippe. 

“At times, it brought tears to my eyes seeing how united people were and how much they appreciated what we were doing. However, it saddened me too because they would call us heroes when it didn’t feel like we were heroes at all. On average, 88% of patients requiring ventilators due to COVID died in NYC. It was hard to feel like a hero when our best efforts resulted in people being zipped up in body bags,” said Rippe.

Despite the mental strain, the emotional toll, and the trauma of his experience treating COVID patients, he also learned a lot. 

“If I had to do it all over again, I would,” he said. “I have developed a fortitude you can only cultivate in times of immense stress and when going beyond the comfort of one’s boundaries. And most rewarding of all, despite all the bad news and low success rates, we have saved some lives that would not have been saved otherwise. A patient I took care of for some time who was on a ventilator for over two weeks was just finally discharged the other day.”

Rippe has found that by eating well, resting, and taking up the piano, he’s recovering from the worst of the pandemic. The hospital is quieter. He’s starting to treat non-COVID patients, and his schedule is easing. What does he plan to do when it’s over? He wants to visit his family in Washington and California. 

The physician’s experience with COVID-19 has left him reflective and philosophical. His parting thoughts are those of kindness and compassion. 

“In these challenging times, we can never be too kind to one another, for our similarities outweigh our differences. We were all children at one time. We all have or have had loved ones, hopes and dreams, goals and fears, and most of all, a desire to love, be loved, and not to die alone. As we grow from childhood to adulthood, our differences in beliefs and lifestyles may come across as loud and all-defining of who we are. Some people separate and divide themselves into tribes of the like-minded, but at the end of the day, in times of crisis, we are all much more similar than we are different. We should remember this during both the bad times and when the good times return,” he said.