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On the front lines: healthcare workers at the heart of the pandemic

By Nam Nguyen and Aileen Xie June 3, 2020

Ivan Zhu Art


All around the world, people have been significantly impacted, in some way, by the COVID-19 pandemic. But with the increase in cases of illness and emergency, many working in the health care field must grapple with these challenges firsthand. Doctors, nurses and other health care workers are risking their own health to aid the general public, altering their lives as they adapt to this new obstacle.

​ Elise Jung-Min Kwon, Sophomore Brandon Kwon’s aunt, is a doctor based in Los Angeles. The pandemic has impacted both her personal life and how she interacts with patients at work.

​ “The coronavirus pandemic has brought many challenges both at work and at home. The major challenge as a physician serving under a multispecialty clinic has been not being able to have in-person visits with most of the patients seeking medical care. There have been limitations in managing patients via telemedicine, such as not being able to perform a physical exam, which is usually required to make a proper diagnosis. Many patients have been fearful of showing up to the hospital or to the clinic, which has delayed the treatment of critical conditions. Also, many of the needed elective surgeries and non-urgent diagnostic tests have been postponed, delaying  the process of diagnosis and treatment. As a physician, I can accept that I may become sick or die while caring for patients with the coronavirus.  However, it has been quite agonizing thinking that I may cause my family members to become very ill or die from the coronavirus. This fear will still persist while I continue serving patients throughout this pandemic,” E. Kwon said. 

​ Sophomore Owen Paterson’s mother, Mary Paterson, is also a doctor serving during the pandemic. Compared to other health care workers, she finds that her personal life has been less impacted.

​ “COVID-19 has not affected my home life too much. After coming home from work and cleaning up, I spend the rest of the day like I always have by filling out paperwork or holding online meetings. Even so, my work life has changed: working hours have completely shifted. I am getting twice the amount of patients; I now have to manage  phone calls with patients rather than seeing them in person. However, the biggest trouble I face is the paranoia surrounding COVID-19, with some people calling me out of sheer panic. With more and more health care workers getting infected by this virus, I feel more pressured at work. Despite all these odds, I am extremely happy and proud of those who are fighting this horrible virus. I am grateful that there are people who are so willing to risk their life so that they can save others,” M. Paterson said. 

"New cases have declined here at the hospital due to the stay-at-home order, so I appreciate the state government’s proactive steps to curb this crisis, as well as all the support we have received. I see a lot of thank you signs along the road near the hospital."

Other health care professionals at the front lines have also had to deal with shortages in equipment while confronting the pandemic, including a pharmacist at the Kaiser Permanente hospital in San Jose, who wishes to remain anonymous. By March 25, almost half of the patients at their San Jose hospital were coronavirus cases, according to the Los Angeles Times. ​ “We were first trained to throw away the personal protective equipment (PPE) after each patient visitation, but now due to the shortage, we are restricted to only one set of PPE per day. The hospital then limited one pharmacist a day to stay on the COVID floor of the hospital, and we rotated between each other. Now, after the Federal Emergency Management Agency got a hold of our PPE supplies to send to New York, we would reuse our PPE for up to a week. It was extremely sad to see patients coming in with acute respiratory distress syndrome fighting for their life, desperately in need of a ventilator. However, there was a shortage of them, like most hospitals, and so I had to witness the team decide who gets put onto a ventilator and who does not.  Even more disheartening is the fact that such decisions are made without a patient’s family members directly around them,” the anonymous worker said. ​ Every day, health care workers are combatting the pandemic, dedicating their shifts to treating patients in need. Despite anti-lockdown protests and neglect for the Centers for Disease Control guidelines, the International Committee of The Red Cross explains that civilians can uphold health care workers’ work by complying with government orders and not acting out of panic. While many cannot provide  medical services at the helm, they can help to flatten the curve by staying home and practicing social distancing with those outside their household. ​ “New cases have declined here at the hospital due to the stay-at-home order, so I appreciate the state government’s proactive steps to curb this crisis, as well as all the support we have received. I see a lot of thank you signs along the road near the hospital. It feels nice to be there for patients and the community. We have received handmade masks from community members and lots of free lunches from the hospital; it is heartwarming to see such gestures during these stressful situations,” the anonymous worker said.


What would you like to say to the essential workers? Let us know in the comments below!

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