As COVID-19 was spiraling out of control earlier this year, New Rochelle resident Dr. Ernest Patti, a senior attending physician of emergency medicine at St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx, was called upon by MSNBC to report from the frontlines, and his words — sometimes emotional, often terrifying — struck such a chord that viewers from all over the country reached out to express their gratitude for the risks he was taking to care for others.
“People sent beautiful cards and letters, prayers, and well-wishes. I’d read everything after my shift and sit there crying, thinking that folks are really great and that the human spirit is really uplifting,” says Patti, who’s worked at the hospital for more than 25 years. Patti was flooded with envelopes addressed to him after each TV appearance. “Kids out west sent these beautiful construction-paper hearts with messages of love on them for me to hand out to my colleagues.”
Then one day, the gifts started coming in. It was a day he’ll never forget.
“I got a call from the guys in the mailroom, who said, ‘Doc, we’ve got all this stuff for you,’” Patti recalls. They delivered two hand trucks, and “one of them had a hose sticking out of it.” It was part of the sender’s CPAP machine, a breathing device that helps ease sleep disorders, and it came with a note: “I’ll give up a few nights of sleep if this can help your patients.”
Other gifts included slices of homemade pound cake from New Jersey, handmade masks from California, chocolates from all over, and N95 masks from construction workers and a Planned Parenthood facility in Ohio. “The PPE was so poignant, coming at a time when people were hoarding those things,” Patti says.
He received a big box from Hawaii, loaded with macadamia nuts, jewelry for the nurses, and “more stuff than you could shake a stick at,” he says. “The shipping alone was $40!”
Thousand-dollar checks showed up, which Patti gave to the hospital, and there was cash, too. “Someone sent $100, saying I looked like I needed a break; I also got a handful of singles with instructions to ‘have a beer on me.’”
Patti is so overwhelmed by the show of support, he’d like to have a beer with everyone who made the effort to connect — once social-distancing restrictions are a thing of the past, of course.