A Closer Look

The Frontlines of Healthcare

Battling the COVID-19 Pandemic

Story and Interviews by Teresa Nguyen

June, 2020

"We pray for our patients all the time. It’s up and down. Sometimes, just when we think we’ve turned a corner, we have setbacks. But we work toward making great strides."  ~  Respiratory Therapist

"We pray for our patients all the time. It’s up and down. Sometimes, just when we think we’ve turned a corner, we have setbacks. But we work toward making great strides."  ~  Respiratory Therapist

The Pandemic of 2020

 

The year 2020 could be described in a variety of negative terms. Pick your adjective. At the end of last December, the first outbreak in Asia was reported to the World Health Organization. Over a span of a few months, an ugly and lethal virus spread like wildfire across our planet. 

Throughout February and March, it wildly wreaked havoc in the form of illness, death, terror, heartache and anxiety, devastating lives and economies around the globe. 


On March 11, 2020, the WHO declared the novel coronavirus outbreak to be a pandemic. Named COVID-19, 'CO' stands for 'corona,' 'VI' for 'virus’, and 'D' for disease. The number 19 is for the year it was discovered, in 2019.

It has been compared to a war, one waged on all of us by this microscopic, invisible virus. In just a few months, it spread to over 6 million people, killing 371,000 worldwide. Every nation is still grappling to figure out how to deal with its destructive impact on human life and on our way of life.

We have yet to see the end of it and to date there is no vaccine available. This virus is just as deadly today as it was back in December on the other side of the world. Yet, we are aching to find our old normal, to nurse our economy back to good health, and the debates as to exactly how we do so fill our news outlets and social media feeds. The virus has brought so many of us together through acts of compassion and, at the same time, it has wedged itself into our national, political divide, further deepening the gap.

The United States saw its first COVID-19 positive case in mid-February on the west coast. On March 13th, the White House declared a national emergency.
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COVID-19 as seen under a microscope
Already by June of 2020, over 1.8 million Americans have tested positive for the virus and our nation has seen over 107,000 deaths from COVID-19. We are approaching nearly twice the deaths in the entire span of the Vietnam War...twice. And the numbers are continually rising, as most states resume numerous social events and business doors have reopened.

Our Healthcare Angels

 

Here in Rock County, Wisconsin, we saw our first COVID-19 case on March 13th, the same day of that national emergency declaration. We saw our first death on March 31st. In the two months after that, we saw a steep climb in cases and a steady climb in deaths with 639 cases and 19 deaths in our county, as of this publishing in early June of 2020.

Through all of these stressful and challenging months, from the onset of our first local cases up to today, our healthcare workers have been battling on the frontlines, living angels among us. They exist in every nursing home, every clinic and in every hospital in our area.

Featured are the stories of three remarkable, Janesville-connected individuals facing this pandemic in real time. Two of these women have asked to have their identity concealed to protect both their workplace and their positions. The third is a 2020 graduate from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. Our hope for the future.

They are not representative of all healthcare employees, but they certainly shed a light on the current state of this pandemic, sharing a unique and professional, inside perspective. Their selfless dedication to others inspires. We can all learn from their experiences and their educated views.

The choices we make in our lives, in our communities, must be based on the science and facts emerging from our expert medical personnel and from our healthcare systems.

If, from this story, we become even more aware of the life and death battles on these frontlines, behind doors of rooms where the public cannot go, perhaps these healthcare workers will feel they’ve made an even bigger difference. The strains felt in clinics and hopitals from the 2020 pandemic are exceptional, and it is up to us to help slow this virus so that those who need critical care are able to receive it.
Their stories might inspire actions that help create a better, safer community for all of us. Our healthcare professionals deserve our utmost respect. They are putting their own lives at risk in order to save lives every day. They are continually sacrificing so much for all of us. They truly deserve our deepest gratitude!

Sarah (fictitious name)

Lead Respiratory Therapist
At a Regional Hospital

The Early Years

I’m from Illinois and have lived in the Janesville area for 25 years now.

 

Growing up, I hung around a lot with my brothers, who were a positive influence on me. I’d say my school skills and my love of going to school came from my sister and the fascination for science came from my brothers.


Education


In high school, I really enjoyed science and I was involved in 4-H, girl scouts and was on the swim team. 


I knew I wanted to go into the medical field ever since I was very little. I had my tonsils out when I was a child and also needed stitches. Most people, especially children, are scared of hospitals. But, for some reason, I took an affinity to them. I thought, “I want to work here!”

 
College

I went to a local college, into the respiratory program. My interest began when someone came into my Anatomy and Physiology class in high school to talk about Respiratory Therapy. I hadn’t heard of it until then. That surpassed my desire to be a nurse. If I hadn’t landed in Respiratory Therapy, I probably would have worked in a lab.

There is a history of asthma on my dad’s side. My son and I have a bit of allergy and asthma flair up, but not bad. 

Career/Work Life

I was a hostess at a restaurant through school. After that, I started as a student at a smaller regional hospital. I had no intention of staying there, but began moving up, with opportunities in lot of different areas. I may not have had that chance at a larger hospital. 
It’s a bit different than nursing. In Respiratory Therapy, you’re either on the floor, in emergency, you might be working in critical care, home care, pulmonary rehab or assisting with diagnostic bronchoscopies. You might also be performing pulmonary function testing, and so forth.

I’ve been a Lead Respiratory Therapist for over 13 years, which is more of a supervisory position. I have to be ready to be on the floor for patient care at any given time, so have to keep my skills up. In a community hospital atmosphere, you’re more apt to do that than in a larger institution.

The COVID-19 Pandemic

Around late March, early April we noticed things were getting serious around here. We had just come out of influenza season. We started waiting for the waves to come.
The Team

It’s huge. We have multi-disciplinary rounds every day in our critical care area.
 
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Rock County, Wisconsin
The Team includes our pulmonologist, who is also an intensivist, an infectious disease physician, our critical care nurses and their leaders, the respiratory therapists, the dietary group, pharmacy and physical therapy. It’s truly a team effort.
Respiratory Therapists run the ventilators. So often we’re in the shadows, so to speak. We work with the doctors to make sure the patients have the right settings. We’re constantly adjusting things in response to the patient’s respiratory condition. This is a very critical stage.

Challenges

We’re used to wearing our PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). We make sure we’re well protected and can function. If we’re drawing blood, we make sure we have someone on the outside to take the bag. We also prepare ourselves for cleaning and handling equipment properly. 
 
A mechanical ventilator
The patients require a lot of oxygen. The COVID-19 patient’s oxygen needs are often greater than a ‘regular’ patient. These patients are very puzzling sometimes. Their disease doesn’t follow the ‘normal’ patterns of other illnesses.

We’ve been seeing an increase in patients (late-May). One has to follow the local government COVID-19 reporting to keep track of the numbers.

Our critical care nursing staff and respiratory therapists have to care for more than we would normally do. Caring for some of the COVID-19 patients can be more intense and tiring than the usual critical care patient. We try to take care of each other and make sure we are all taking care of ourselves, from day into night.
Typical Day During the Pandemic

Typically, we start our day around 6 am. We do an initial check of all the ventilator patients on the floor. If we have any floor care, we do that first. We still have patients in the non-COVID areas to tend to. 

Standard practices for patients needing respiratory treatment has changed drastically because of COVID-19, as has the need of protecting ourselves.
We attend multi-disciplinary rounds with the physicians and other disciplines so that we have a plan for each patient. We move throughout our day and take care of things as they arise. We call the doctor multiple times throughout the day and sometimes into the night. 

Things can turn for the worse at any time.

Exhaustion & Frustration

We were already kind of tired from the winter’s influenza and RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) season! We all look forward to our vacations in spring and summers, we take turns having vacations. But we’re not going anywhere now. It’s frustrating.
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I don’t feel like I’m missing out, though, since no one else is having a vacation, either! It’s “all hands on deck” with this crisis.
Emotional Toll

We all go through a rollercoaster of emotions. We’ll have days where we’re going along and things are okay. Then suddenly, things happen, we are trying to fix things with the patients, so it gets stressful. Many of us have been working in a critical care of environment for years, so in some ways, we are used to it. For some of the COVID-19 patients, it is such a cruel disease. 

We try to keep each other’s spirits up. The hospital tries to take care of us by giving us little team activities that we can do. But it’s kind of a rollercoaster.

Personally, I listen to mindfulness sessions. Also, having some time off, or just sitting outside this time of year, is very helpful. I love being outside.
 
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Tough Days

When you have multiple COVID-19 patients requiring ventilators, who aren’t doing well all at the same time, and they’re requiring a lot more intensive care, that’s a challenge. 

We have experience with the sickest patients in the hospital, so we’re used to emergencies. But these patients are very intense to take care of and this illness isn't typical.

It’s very heart wrenching when the families can’t come in and be with their loved ones, hold their hands and visit with them. 
Rewards

When someone leaves the COVID-19 area they play a bright, familiar song on the intercom. Because we’ve all worked together so much, we know we’re a great team. For some patients, as they are discharged, the hospital staff line the halls and cheer for the patients as they are wheeled out and are greeted by their loved ones. It is very emotional, to say the least.
 
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A message from a survivor in Cleveland, Ohio
Family

Right now, I’m distancing myself from my partner and his dad out of concern, since his dad is elderly. I’ve moved in with my daughter, into my son’s old room. I call it the ‘dorm room’. I constantly wipe things down and change my clothes after work and try to be as careful as possible.

My son is working in another community and I haven’t seen him in a long while. We talk on the phone, though. It’s really tough. Sometime I want to go have a social distancing picnic with him. I do that with my partner and his dad, just sit at the end of the driveway and they have a cookout. We did that for Mother’s Day. You can find ways to connect.
Hobbies 

I love to travel… 

This time of year, I also like to make hanging baskets, getting flowers and arranging them myself. I’ll put on my mask and go pick up some flowers. I am also longing to go to the Farmers’ markets.

Community

I try to go to Target or Wal-Mart at non-busy times. There are a lot of people with masks on. There are a lot of people making masks. I wish that more people would wear them in public. Hopefully, we’re doing better than other communities with that.
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There has been a lot of good out there - corporations bringing the hospital PPE and people making masks for the hospital. My friend made them for the respiratory team.

Would you do it all again?

Yes. I’m very passionate about my field. Helping someone breathe better and to ease their struggle is such a vital part of why I am in this healthcare field. I don’t think I would change my course. Sometimes there is an element of fear. I started this career in 1985, during the AIDS crisis. But I kept on and have had a long career of protecting myself. Things do get a little scary at times, I won’t lie. But I love it. 
Hospital Corridor
It makes me feel good to help others. We pray for our patients all the time. It’s up and down. Sometimes, just when we think we’ve turned a corner, we have setbacks. But we work toward making great strides.  

Gratitude

I’m grateful to my coworkers and to the whole hospital team, not to mention the biomedical engineer guys who service our ventilators and other vital critical care equipment. I’m also very thankful to our administration, laboratory and materials management staff who work hard to make sure we have testing supplies and adequate PPE to wear.
 

I’m grateful that I have a job. There are a lot of people struggling out there. 

And I’m very grateful for my family…they take care of me. 

 

Juanita (fictitious name)

Radiology Technologist
At a Regional Hospital

Education


I’m from Iowa. My mom encouraged me and I was very close to my dad.


During high school, I wanted to do art in college.  But I had a teacher who said, “You can’t do art. You don’t have what it takes.” Words really matter and have an impact. So, I didn’t follow that path. I considered interior design and wanted to go to Iowa State University. 


We had a bus trip to ISU and I loved it! All the way home, I kept looking for a major that they didn’t have in my hometown. My logic was that if I found a major that they didn’t have there, my parents would let me go to Iowa State.

An Unexpected Change

However, my dad got sick and I lost him when I was a senior in high school.
 
During his illness, I became interested in healthcare. I had seen all the procedures that he went through and what that entailed. So, I stayed in my hometown and attended classes at a hospital-based program. After one year of college, with the thought of doing nursing, I decided to switch areas. A local hospital had a hospital-based X-ray program. It was 24 months. I signed up and started two weeks later. It was $80 for the entire 2 years. We only had to pay our textbooks on top of that.
It was very hands-on. We rotated and worked on the floor, so we got a real feel for the job. We only had 5 students in the class.
Early Career

After graduating in June, I took my boards in July and got my first job at a university hospital in a neighboring state. I went from an 80-bed hospital to an 800-bed hospital! I was hired to do portable X-ray and operating room X-ray. Everything was always different in the work.

After getting married, we moved out east and I worked out there for a while. Then we moved to Janesville.

Living in Janesville 

I stopped working when I had my children. About 3 or 4 years after moving to Janesville, I took on a pool position with a local hospital. I worked in Sports and Rehabilitation, as well as some of the smaller clinics in surrounding communities like Footville, Milton, Edgerton and Whitewater. This got my foot back in the door, and I kept my license up with continuing ed credits.                                
We were in Janesville for 7 years. My children attended elementary and middle school here. Then we moved to another community farther north.

A New Job

I had started working at a clinic and then transferred to a new hospital after it was built. It was familiar work, since I had started that way. It’s a lot of different with hospital patients. You use a lot more of your skills, you have to think outside the box and there’s more variety. There are things, like operating room procedures, that you wouldn’t use in a clinic. And it’s a different pace as well.

Early Signs of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Around the end of February and beginning of March we were seeing what was happening in Italy and getting all that information. A part of me wanted to believe that it wouldn’t come here, that it might not reach the United States. It was an abstract concept at first. 
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I equated it to when AIDS first started. I was new in my first job at the time, and it was really scary. You didn’t know if a patient had it or not when they came into the ER. The fear of the unknown would come into play.

Personal Protection

If a patient comes in with any chest symptoms at all, I just assume they have COVID-19, so I put on the PPE. We were getting patients before they're tested, so I would rather be overprepared than underprepared. We see a lot of patients and can’t keep track.
There was a period where it was really scary. 
The Global COVID-19 Pandemic - Positive Cases in Late February, 2020
The really bad statistics were coming in – younger people were getting sick and dying, healthcare workers were getting infected and New York was overrun with victims of the pandemic.

My biggest thing is that I don’t want to be a reason someone gets it. I don’t want to bring it home to my husband or children or my neighbors. I’m very aware of trying to stay safe at work. 

We have things in place so that there’s enough PPE for the staff to go around. We now wear masks for every patient, whereas we didn’t before, and now we wear them for up to a week or until it falls apart. The N95 mask is worn for when we image COVID-19 patients, and we wear that for as long as it is still intact, as well. 
Teamwork – Answering the Call

We have a great team. We really, really do. We’re all in the same boat, and we all get it. It's not productive trying to go home and vent to your family…unless they’re there, they don’t really get it. So, you have a closeness to the people you work with. We’ve become more comfortable with the pandemic now, so we’re not as freaked out.

But, at the beginning, we were pretty scared. Everybody was willing to help each other. I don’t know how we could do this job without the team! I will say that the supervisors make sure we have everything we need and appreciate our efforts.
The Procedures

Now, our goal is to not have people wait for very long in the waiting rooms because we don’t want them exposed to others. So, we go and get the patients right away. For the most part, people have been patient with things and our changed procedures.

If someone comes in through the Emergency Department who is a COVID-19 suspect patient, they will be taken to a secluded room, sometimes a negative pressure room to help decrease airflow.  
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They’ll evaluate the patient, then order a bunch of labs and test to see if they test positive. Then they do the portable X-ray. That’s where we come in.
There are usually 2 X-ray techs that wear all the PPE and go in to the ER. We try to be as quick as possible to limit exposure. There will be a “clean person” and a “dirty person”, as we say. The “dirty person” is the one who goes in and has all the interaction with the patient, puts the plate behind their back and leans them forward, positions them. The “clean person” runs the machine and only touches the machine. 

That doesn’t always work, though, because some of these patients have become really sick, very fast so they’re super weak. Sometimes they need help leaning forward so that we can get the plate behind their back. You do the best you can to help them and to keep the “clean & dirty” scenario.
We make sure to wipe everything down, we have to wipe the gear down, we take off the disposable gown, we take off the N95 and wash our hands. It’s really hot and uncomfortable. But I think it’s not as bad as being an Intensive Care Nurse, where you have to wear this stuff all day.
Next Step in Care

COVID-19 sometimes shows up on the initial chest X-ray, but not always. If it does, we recognize it immediately. It has a distinct pattern. Then they go on to the breathing treatment and have to be intubated. The Respiratory Therapists deserve all the credit in the world! They are right there in their faces and taking the highest risk. They are really dedicated and it’s a hard job.

Usually these patients get an X-ray every day so we can see their status and check on their progress. If they’re intubated, the X-ray helps the doctors in multiple ways.
Challenges

Sometimes when we have to go to the floor, and the patient is intubated, they’re usually paralyzed because they’ve had drugs to hold them still for that duration. It’s difficult to get the plate behind the patient and under their backs. Some of the beds have a pocket that works better to slide it in, but that’s generally a challenge.

Keeping morale up is always a challenge. People can get depressed about things at different times. One day one person is down and someone else makes cookies. People will bring in muffins or doughnuts or lunches. 

This is the first time I’ve seen a genuine appreciation from the public for the healthcare professionals. It’s really nice. Even back when we were dealing with AIDS or when the SARS pandemic was upon us, it was never this widespread, at least for me, personally.
 
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Photo by Jeff George
It might not seem like a big deal, but it’s a real pick-me-up. Sometimes the regular patients come in and thank us for what we’re doing.
Toughest Moments

Probably right at the beginning, when this all started, we just didn’t know where or how it would end. It was overwhelming because we didn’t know how contagious it was. We were afraid of contracting the virus. It was exhausting. Everything took twice as long, but we still had as much, if not more work than before. I began to wonder why I hadn’t retired by now!

You do get used to it and get into a rhythm. It doesn’t become routine, by any means, but it does get easier. 

We have a couple of COVID-19 patients who have been in the hospital for over a month. You feel so badly for them because their families can’t come in. 
Rewards

I always try to think of how things could be worse for me. When I go to a COVID-19 patient for a chest X-ray, I look at the nurse, who is there for 8 hours at least, for her whole shift. I’m only there for 10 minutes.

I have a new appreciation for the nursing staff and the CNAs and the people who are with those patients 24/7.

We usually know when a patient comes off the ventilators. We also receive the statistics from the hospital every day. 
That’s one thing about X-ray, we don’t always know the follow up. But with these patients, we’re getting that information and that’s nice to see and know….to know, “They’re going to be okay.”
We had a guy released the other week, he was in his wheelchair and, as they wheeled him out, everybody was clapping. 
Like anything, you hear a lot of the bad stuff, but it’s sure nice to hear the good stuff!

Dealing with the Stress

I do my yoga. I find periods just for quiet time. Some people like music, but I prefer the quiet. I take our dog out for walks. Let me tell you, the air smells SO GOOD when you can take your mask off!

I like to knit. I also made a bunch of masks, several for my coworkers in the X-ray department. I did it because it’s still a good thing to have, even if you’re going to the grocery store and such. At the beginning, they wanted us to wear cloth masks, but now we have enough PPE. 
Advice for the Community

I wear my cloth mask to protect others, from me potentially giving this virus to someone else. The biggest frustration I have is when I see people gathering, totally disregarding the social distancing recommendations and not wearing masks.

You don’t know if you have COVID-19 or not. Just because someone is in your family or related to you, doesn’t mean it can’t spread. If someone doesn’t live with you, you could be giving it to someone who is elderly or immunosuppressed. We need to be mindful of the vulnerable people around us. 

I would hate to pass this along to an elderly person.  We can’t be selfish. If you think of people back in WWI and WWII and what they sacrificed. We can’t do this for two or three months? Hopefully we’ve learned some things during this down time.
 
Young Woman with Mask
The politicians should go shadow someone in the COVID-19 unit for 24 hours. At the beginning, I got frustrated when people couldn’t just stay home. It would make our job so much easier. I understand the economic difficulties, but we don’t want to go back to square one, either. People need to be patient. That will go a long way.

Now that the Safer at Home order is over, this doesn’t mean the virus is gone. We have to use common sense. Believe me, nobody wants for this to be over more than I do! But just because you want it to be over, doesn’t mean it’s over.

Family

It has affected my family. My son isn’t working now. He works in the service industry and hasn’t gone back to work yet. My daughter is working mostly from home, but I can’t go see her because I don’t want to possibly expose her.

My husband is going into the office here and there. They’re starting to open up.

They’re all being safe. Maybe all those years of my lecturing, because I’m the medical person, have paid off! They’re being really good. But, it’s hard for these events like Mother’s Day and birthdays. I have friends who haven’t seen their grandkids or hugged them. That has to be hard. Still, everybody has to be patient!
Reflections on the Career

It makes me feel good to be helping others. Last week, we had an older person we helped, a little old lady, who came up and hugged my coworker. She wanted to thank us! We couldn’t stop her from hugging us before she did…good thing we were wearing our PPE. But the appreciation was nice. 

I go back to “How would I want a healthcare worker to treat me if it were my family?”. We do get cranky patients, but we try to remain professional and kind. It doesn’t take any longer to be nice than it does to be mean. We need to try to think of others and what they might be going through.
Gratitude

I’m thankful to get to work with such a good group of people.

I’m very grateful for my family and for their understanding. I’m thankful that my parents worked hard and taught me this value. 
And I’m grateful for my friends, for their support and positivity. 

Minaliza Shahlapour 

2020 Graduate - The University of Wisconsin

School of Medicine and Public Health 

Doctor of Internal Medicine

The Early Years


I was born in Harvard, IL and raised in Janesville, WI. I attended Madison Elementary, St. Mary’s, Roosevelt Elementary, Edison Middle School, and Craig High School. 


My parents were 150% encouraging 150% of the time. They always put my education first, made sure I had all the resources, time, and calm to focus on school. Even in college, they were ready to help me with anything at the drop of a hat. 


I learned a great deal from the Janesville community, from friends of my parents, while growing up – namely people from the Diversity Action Team of Rock County. Their open-mindedness and discussions on how to become a more inclusive community was amazing to me.

 
This undoubtedly influenced how I approach the world today. 
I was very lucky to have wonderful friends, teachers, and coaches growing up in Janesville. They encouraged me to push myself academically, personally and in my extracurricular activities. 

Education

My parents and I joke that I always said I wouldn’t become a doctor, because I didn’t have the stomach for ‘blood and guts’. Then, in high school, I took a “Mini Med School” through Mercy Health and was exposed to various medical technologies that intrigued me. Context changed my perspective on the blood I thought I feared.
I always had an interest in science disciplines, so I pursued research at UW’s Biochemistry Department in my first semester. Then, I volunteered at the American Family Children’s Hospital. That is where my consideration of a career in medicine began. I loved the opportunity to comfort kids and their families during such vulnerable times. 

I attended UW-Madison earning a B.S. in Medical Microbiology & Immunology, Global Health. I always found it interesting that such advanced organisms such as ourselves can be so crippled by microbes, like bacteria and viruses (oddly relevant now), that can’t even be seen with the naked eye. 
In May of 2020, I graduated from The University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health (UWSMPH) with an M.D.
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Minaliza - Craig High School Class of 2011
I participated in a 2.5-year program called Training in Urban Medicine and Public Health (TRIUMPH). In the program, 16 students move to Milwaukee to do all of their clinical rotations and participate in a longitudinal community project. It is tailored for students committed to working with under-resourced populations throughout medical school and in their careers. 

What’s Next

The fourth year of medical school is an interesting journey in terms of demands. It starts with wrapping up board exams, solidifying a specialty, and applying to residency, a laborious and costly process. Then, once interviews are released, we travel all over the country. I went on 13 interviews between November - January from Los Angeles to Boston and everywhere in between! 
 
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All fourth-year students (M4s) participate in a process called "The Match" where we enter our residency preferences into an algorithm and then find out in March where we will be going for their residency. 

Ultimately, I wanted to go Boston Medical Center in Massachusetts for their Internal Medicine. It would be 3 years of training.  On March 20th I found out that I’ll be moving to Boston this summer to start my Internal Medicine residency in the Primary Care Track at Boston Medical Center! What a much-needed thrill after those few uncertain weeks!

Since the pandemic was declared, medical schools were prohibited from allowing us in clinical settings. I have been off clinical duties since mid-March. It was reported that some medical schools around the country graduated their M4s early to allow them to join the workforce, namely east coast programs. 
The COVID-19 Pandemic

I had a trip planned with my family in early February and the media coverage around COVID-19 was picking up around then. It is so interesting to look back on the evolution of my thoughts around this matter. For weeks, I thought this was no more of a threat than the flu. But once major universities began sending their students home, and the epidemics were happening in various U.S. cities, I viewed it as a more tangible threat. 
It's a match!
The spring semester involves mostly elective rotations to enrich your specialty. Many students take trips and time off from the rigors of academic life. My roommate and I had planned to go to Italy in March. Obviously, that was cancelled. 

Around this time, I wrapped up my last rotation (radiology). All rotations after that were cancelled. There were conversations about whether or not graduation would be cancelled, which ultimately was. 

Around mid-March, my thoughts on COVID-19 were changing so rapidly. It became particularly concerning when I read daily reports of over-saturated ICUs, rationing ventilators, and PPE shortages for healthcare workers! My network is largely doctors, residents and medical students. I was continuously bombarded with updates from the medical point of view, including the fears of frontline workers. 
UW School of Medicine and Public Health
It is not easy to stand idle as you hear these reports. However, we couldn’t go into clinical duties, we weren’t yet doctors. We also couldn’t expose ourselves and then return home to our families without a 2-week self-isolation. 

Challenges

As students, we had a lot of cancellations - trips, Match Day, which is usually a big celebration at each med school where students find out and announce where they will be going to residency, graduation, our preparatory course for residency, and the final goodbyes to all of our friends and mentors. 

Yet, these seemed trivial when compared to the sacrifices that our healthcare colleagues were making and the challenges they were facing daily. 
Many of us felt guilty for feeling sad about missing celebrations when so many were suffering. I think all of society was missing the events they were looking forward to this spring, though. I now feel at peace that you can simultaneously mourn the loss of events, like a graduation or a friend’s wedding, while also feeling deeply empathetic and heart-broken for the for those battling this pandemic. 

Outlook on the Profession

When I think of the career I’ve chosen, I think of the sacrifices, the time and energy to get into medical school, to complete it, and finish residency. Of course, being a doctor has demands that limit your time in the future, as well. 

This pandemic reminded me that, sometimes, healthcare providers will be asked to put their lives on the line. In our first-world nation, I let that slip away from my mind. 
As a society, we have been fortunate to benefit from medical advancements like vaccines and proper sanitation. 
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As a result, we forget how formidable a threat infectious disease can be. This pandemic has also enhanced my feeling that, as healthcare providers, we are incredibly PRIVILEGED. 

When I think about the many lives trapped in an ICU, battling COVID-19, while their families had to stay isolated and unable to visit, I see the opportunity doctors, nurses, and therapists have. They become the loving presence people need during that time. The families are trusting us with their mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, neighbors, children…. with their lives. I don’t know what is more powerful than that. 

Future Career

Boston Medical Center is a safety net hospital in Boston. I was attracted to it for this reason. They serve a largely under-resourced population, including those living without housing and in poverty. 
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We know that COVID-19 is affecting these populations at much higher rates. This means I will likely see a great deal of COVID-19 cases when I start next month. I imagine it will be challenging to train as a doctor with this immense burden on the healthcare system. 

However, it is also a great opportunity to be involved in the innovation happening all around the country right now. 

I do fear the second wave, as fall approaches and the country reopens. I don’t see a scenario where we can resume total normalcy and not risk a significant number of lives, before we have a studied therapy or vaccine. I anticipate the next year will be one of the hardest of my life, but I can’t say I know what to expect. I don’t think anyone does. 
I think the medical field is amazing and inspiring. I frequently feel lucky to be a part of it. Simply put, it is about service, equity, and being with patients and families through their most vulnerable times. I’ve struggled with is the guilt of not being able to do much, so I am looking forward to being able to contribute! 
Community

Communities across the country have moved mountains already. I am so touched when I hear what neighbors are doing for neighbors. Honestly, it brings tears to my eyes every single time. 

For now, I think the most important thing is to not view this virus as trivial. Although we may not be able to self-isolate until we have a suitable treatment, I think we must still take it seriously, once people start returning to work. 
 
Our behaviors reflect how much we value the most vulnerable in our society. These careful actions are in place to protect them. 
To the Medical Community, Doctors and Nurses: You must be exhausted and you must be scared. I can’t imagine the suffering and loss you’ve witnessed. Thank you for serving bravely.
 
Soon, I will share in your struggles and will tell you what I will tell myself - that this, too, shall pass. 

Gratitude

Actually, several weeks ago I made a list of things I am grateful for. I’m thankful for my health, the health of my parents, proximity to my parents and time with my parents.
 
I’m grateful for my education.
 
I’m also grateful for this time to self-isolate, at least until I start residency.
 
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Minaliza with her parents, Jaleh and Fred
And I’m grateful for Wi-Fi…no joke!

Click here for a timeline of COVID-19 events:

For an update on the COVID-19 cases in the United States:

For an update on the COVID-19 cases in Rock County: