Home at the hospital

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Dylan M. Gentile
  • 919th Special Operations Wing

While most people go home after a long, grueling day at work, Kevin Kulow walks straight to his camper, a short distance from the emergency room where he faces a wide range of unexpected illnesses.

Kulow works as an ER physician in a Panama City hospital where COVID-19 patients are treated. He sacrifices his mattress and a warm meal with his loved-ones to avoid infecting his family if he inadvertently was exposed to the coronavirus at work.

“The support of my wife and children is critical to what I do,” said Kulow, who also serves his country as a lieutenant colonel and experienced flight surgeon for the 919th Special Operations Medical Squadron. “My family has grown accustomed to me managing disasters.”

With a plethora of experience in both his military and civilian capacities, Kulow is no stranger to patient care in disasters.

“Personally, I’m used to wearing gas masks, powered air-purifying respirators, and other personal protective equipment,” said Kulow. “Austere medicine is right in my wheelhouse.”

Some of Kulow’s experience in austere medicine comes from a deployment in support of the Afghanistan conflict. While there, he provided medical support for the forward operating location and treated combat casualties.

“When stuff hits the fan, he’s the guy you want with you,” said retired Lt. Col. Gary Benedetti, an orthopedic trauma surgeon, who deployed with Kulow in the past. “He really has a calling for this, it’s his thing.”

On top of his role as an ER doctor treating patients during the COVID-19 pandemic, Kulow has a respectable past. He served the public at moments when the nation needed him. He helped the local community during hurricane Michael and served as a field doctor during 9/11.

“We worked into the wee hours of the night setting up an expeditionary medical support system facility in a parking lot,” said Kulow, speaking of his time in New York City after Sept. 11. “We never saw a single patient, because there were no casualties to care for. Nobody was coming out of that rubble alive.”

Kulow expressed how he felt terrible because there was nothing he could do to help. He had extensive training to deal with casualty situations, and there was no one there for him to treat. The aftermath of Hurricane Michael is where he found that chance to put his skills to work.

“The tent city behind the hospital handled the walking wounded so we could focus on more serious cases in the emergency room,” said Kulow. “My training as a flight surgeon enabled me to identify who could be airlifted during the initial evacuation of [the remaining patients at] the hospital.”

Kulow’s Panama City apartment was destroyed by Hurricane Michael so he slept on an air mattress in an unfinished janitor’s closet in the hospital and used a poncho for a blanket. Eventually, he decided to vacate the closet and pull his camper into the hospital’s parking lot. He was unaware at the time that he would need to stay in it again for a completely different type of disaster.

“I initially stayed in the camper because there was no housing in the city that hadn’t been destroyed by Hurricane Michael,” said Kulow. “Then when this pandemic blew up, the camper was the best way to avoid spreading or contracting the virus because I wasn’t around anybody else.”

The natural disasters and countless medical emergencies Kulow experienced during his time in medicine have not scared him away. He continues to go to work every day to do his best to keep the community healthy.

“There are many medical staff members who have stepped up to care for those suffering from COVID-19,” said Benedetti. “I know Kulow does it without trepidation. There are those that do it because it is their job, and then there are those that do it because it’s their duty and their calling, like Dr. Kulow.”

To learn more about how the 919th Special Operations Wing is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, check out the 919th SOW Facebook page or visit the “news” section at https://www.919sow.afrc.af.mil/