by David Zenlea
I could tell quite a bit about Mike Feld of Farmington Hills when he hopped out of his car on a recent Wednesday morning wearing a boyish grin. No one is this happy to drive to a coffee shop on 11-Mile Road before work. Except, it seems, for Mike Feld.
“I once described myself as an annoyingly optimistic person,” he tells me once we’ve sat down. “I walk around; I tell people, it’s the best day of my life.”
Now, if you’re anything like me, you’ve probably had more than a few days in these extraordinarily stressful times that you’d hesitate to qualify as “the best.” Yet when it comes to stress, Feld has most of us beat. He’s an ER doctor and director at the Ascension Macomb-Oakland Hospital Emergency Department. He’s also the medical director of the Region 2 North Healthcare Coalition, which helps coordinate disaster preparedness in Oakland, Macomb, and St. Clair counties. Remember the field hospital set up at the Suburban Collection at the height of the lockdowns in 2020? That was him.
In addition to those responsibilities and busy family life, Feld has devoted a great deal of energy and expertise to the Detroit Jewish community, as a board member and medical committee co-chair for Tamarack Camps, a member of Federation’s Maimonides Society, particularly as co-chair of the third Forman Leadership Mission to Israel. You may have caught him on a Federation Zoom event during the pandemic, answering questions and easing fears. “I’ve probably talked about COVID every single day for the last two and a half years in some fashion or another,” he notes.
Feld doesn’t minimize the difficulties of the pandemic or the particular pressures health care providers continue to face. Yet he also insists on continuing to see the positive in life and in other people.
“Mike doesn’t see any use worrying about something he doesn’t have control over,” says Jodi Feld, his wife (and Associate Director of Federation’s Affinities department). “He believes and sees the good in people,” she adds, even though he has, working in emergency rooms, seen people at their very worst.
We sat down with Feld as he was preparing for the summer session at Tamarack. He spoke about the evolving pressures of the pandemic, giving back to the community, and how he stays positive.
An evolving conversation about COVID…
The one constant (in the pandemic) has been change. My wife and I talked at the very beginning, and I said, there’s a 100 percent chance I get this. This is the reality of what I do—emergency medicine physician on the frontlines. Do I move to the basement? Move out?
[We’ve come] from the initial fear of that wave—of not knowing—all the way to now, that conversation has moved into “I’ve gotten COVID, what does that look like for me? What are the social impacts?”
There was a lot of good information, a lot of bad information, a lot of misinformation that was out there. I have tried to be a realist throughout. I didn’t want to be an alarmist and scare everyone. But I didn’t want to take a minimalist approach and say, “Hey, this is nothing.”
I never viewed my role throughout all this to be lecturing other people. I’m willing to share my professional opinion, but I’m not going to be judgmental. You’re going to make a decision that works best for you and your family, and I’m not going to try to talk you into anything. That was the approach that I have.
…And an evolving camp experience
The hardest decision to make [at Tamarack] was to look my kids in the eye and tell them that we couldn’t do camp two years ago. We couldn’t do it safely. My kids live for Tamarack. That’s their happy place, their special place.
Last year, I’m so proud of the medical committee, that we were able to have camp. Maybe it looked a little different, but we were able to have camp and we had no COVID.
Everybody got tested before they came to camp. We did bubbles. Each little village was their own family, their own bubble. For the first 10 days of camp, we kept all the bubbles separate. Then we retested everybody who needed to be tested if they weren’t vaccinated. At that point, we popped the bubble and had camp.
This year, as we go forward, the goal shifted a little bit. The committee said, “OK, last year, the goal was to keep COVID out. This year, the reality is, we probably are going to have a COVID case.” But how do you mitigate spread? What protocols could we put in place? How can we plan ahead? The goal being to return camp to as normal as possible. To give the kids that experience they’ve come to know and love—that magic-is-in-the-air experience that Lee [Trepeck, Tamarack CEO] and his team have put together.
Seeing humanity in the emergency room…
As an ER physician, unfortunately, I’m catching people oftentimes on some of the worst days of their lives. I understand that I deal with and see whatever it is that’s brought them to the emergency department, but it’s new for them.
Thinking about how I can connect with people on a personal level—that’s just important. [Then] I extrapolate that out on the extracurricular activities, the things that are meaningful to me.
…And finding community among other doctors in Maimonides Society
Maimonides is an opportunity for any sort of clinician—whether it’s a physician, physician’s assistant, NP, dentist, or anyone medical-based—to get together. It does a good job of putting together programs that not only have a social aspect but really explain the great work that Federation does. The goal is to inspire people to get involved—whether it’s time, philanthropic, whatever—and to recognize that we are, on some level, in a very fortunate position [where we’re able to ask], How can we give back to the community?
Sometimes there’s some CME involved with Maimonides. It brings in speakers. And, like any good meeting, there’s the meeting before the meeting and schmoozing afterward. You get to know people in all the hospitals. To me, there’s tremendous value in that.
We did some Zoom lectures in the very beginning of the pandemic, answering people’s questions on COVID. Hopefully, we can start to get back together in person.
Making time for what means most
There are certain non-negotiables in my world. Family is very important to me. I’m fortunate as an ER physician in that I can juggle my schedule a little bit. I can coach my kids’ sports teams. I have the ability to drive them to school, to interact with them and their friends on a daily basis. So that’s important. When I’m at work, I work hard and focus, but when I’m away from the hospital, I can focus on my family.
I get asked to do a lot of things, and I had to learn how to say no—because I’m the eternal pleaser. I want to help out. I really [focused on] things that were meaningful to me and my family, like Tamarack, and Maimonides, and the Forman Lecture and the Forman Mission. Things that, at the end of the day, I think, “I made a positive meaningful impact.”