by Hannah Rogers
Health care workers arrive at their hospitals to prepare for work. They show up in normal clothes and head to their locker rooms with their work outfit in their bags. They change into their scrubs and put on a mask, safety glasses, face shield, disposable gown. There is a prayer on their lips as they wage battle with a tiny enemy.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made some jobs essential, and has christened heroes out of those who put their own health on the line. At the front are hospital workers who save lives while putting their own in harm’s way. Moment by moment, they are guiding society back to a sense of normalcy.
With this virus, people are living strange lifestyles. Many people are affected by the change, but hospital workers are at much more of a risk. They go to work every day and return home to see their families after saving lives all day. With medical equipment in short supply, hospitals have done what they could to stay viable.
The Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, where I served as a public relations intern in the fall semester, took conference rooms and other non-traditional patient care space and converted them into patient rooms. This allocated as many as 270 additional beds and cots to patients with COVID-19 and allows the hospital to help more patients. The staff ordered as many supplies as possible.
The hospital in my town is even asking for donations when they run out of essential supplies and await reorders that have not arrived. Santa Barbara is a small community, and many small businesses are responding, donating many items and food to help the hospital workers while they fight to save lives in our community. Restaurants are dropping off food and pastries to the emergency room and to the floors where hospital workers are taking care of patients.
The Daily Grind, a local coffee shop, and Nothing Bundt Cakes in Santa Barbara donated bagels, muffins and mini cakes to the workers. Also, many local community members who can sew masks or have extra masks take them to the hospital for when they are needed. With their spare time, older ladies have put a new spin on the sewing circle and are actively sewing masks to donate to the hospital.
“The healthcare workers have been great customers to the Daily Grind for years, says Yolanda Gonzalez, one of The Daily Grind owners. “The medical community are daily customers to the coffee shop. This is our opportunity to give back and spread some sunshine their way during this difficult time.”
Redlands Community Hospital in Redlands, California is also asking for community donations. “We have experienced a huge outpouring of donations from the community—anything from masks and food to helping out the staff at the hospital. The community has really stepped up,” says Nikyah Thomas-Pfeiffer, a University of La Verne public affairs alumna. “Our community is very close, and everyone is there to help one another get through this hard time. In one neighborhood, residents went to the houses of hospital workers and put balloons on their mailboxes that said, “Stay safe and thank you.”
The fear level for all hospital workers on the front line is high, especially when they return home, because now their main concern is keeping their families safe. Doctors and hospital workers, when they arrive home, get undressed, leave their clothes outside and go straight to the shower and make sure they put their clothes in the wash right away. Many take long hot showers, perhaps psychologically cleaning not only their bodies but their minds. Some people also spray disinfectant on their work shoes and bags.
Thomas-Pfeiffer says Redlands Community Hospital has undertaken many changes because of the Coronavirus. The hospital has changed regular rooms in the hospital to room for patients to go to if they run out space. At their hospital, they have tents in the parking lot where all patients with symptoms go on arrival to be examined.
Currently in San Bernardino County, as of May 5, 2020, there are 2,239 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 101 deaths. “If your symptoms are really bad, and you need to be admitted to the hospital, a nurse takes you up to the part of the hospital where they are treating the COVID patients,” says Thomas-Pfeiffer. “We have been receiving a steady stream of COVID patients since the outbreak. While being checked out, they stay in the outside portable units,” she says.
Scott Essman, University of La Verne senior adjunct professor in the Communications Department was afflicted by the coronavirus. He says he started feeling sick on March 9 but thought it was nothing and that he would sleep it off. Essman was not able to sleep and knew something was wrong. The next morning, he woke up feeling worse and called Kaiser Permanente to tell them what was happening. “For the first time in 16 years, I had to cancel class three days in a row which equaled a week of class,” says Essman. He canceled classes the week before the University spring break. Then by March 13 the University of La Verne announced that it would be going online so Essman thought he would be able to teach, despite feeling ill. Nevertheless, the next morning, he again sought medical help, and his doctor told him to go to urgent care because of his symptoms.
“It was very serious. I had bad body aches, fever, felt disoriented, lethargic and had a bad headache. It felt like someone hit me in the head with a baseball bat,” says Essman.
When he got to urgent care, they checked him out, and a few hours later he was in a bed at urgent care with an IV in his arm. After two hours, he felt better and was sent him home with medicine. He had not been diagnosed as being ill with COVID-19.
He still wasn’t feeling better and went back to urgent care on March 16 and this time received a different medicine. That wasn’t working so on March 19 he got tested for coronavirus. Later that week, he was having trouble breathing. He would take a breath and start coughing right after. He struggled with this acute symptom for two weeks from March 15 to March 30.
“People are dying from this virus on ventilators in hospital. There is no fun and games with this virus. It is very serious,” says Essman. On March 28, Kaiser called him with his test results and told him he had Coronavirus. He says they told him “since you are starting to feel better just social distance, use a mask, be very careful about where you go and just stay home.” Two days later, his primary care doctor called him and told him he would prescribe Singulair for him to take at night plus a new inhaler that would be mailed to him. He was already taking one in the morning and at night. So, this one was extra strong for when he was having problems. There was some confusion getting the medication, so he finally called the pharmacy and was proactive and got his own medicine.
He says he showed up to pick up the medicine in his car. The pharmacist came out in a suit that looked like a space suit and was covered from head to toe. They took his temperature and gave him his medicine, and he headed home. After taking the first pill of Singulair, he woke up feeling better. April 1, he could breathe much better. He still takes the Singulair and uses the inhaler at night and in the morning. Since April 15, he stopped using the inhaler for problem spots. “April 1 was a new beginning for me. I felt better. I could breathe better. I knew I was going to be all right at this point in my recovery.” He says that he feels very lucky to be alive and to tell his story.
For me, I feel I am contributing in a way to the frontline effort. When I moved back home from my University of La Verne dorm room, I was asked to go work and started a full-time job. I babysit for two different families who are doctors and psychologists. Their jobs are essential, and their children are not in school. So, in order for them to go to work to treat patients, I am there to help them out at home.
I get to work and go on walks with the children. I am also the one who is teaching them and helping them with their work from school. I am going to school myself and also teaching four children five days a week. They are in first grade, kindergarten and pre-k. I am teaching them the basics in math, English, science and art that they are going to need for the future. This is all a learning lesson for me. I have to think of innovative ways to teach them. They all learn differently and at different speeds.
I recently taught the first grader how to count change and money. She was so happy that she told her mom when she got home from work. Her mom texted me and told me how excited the little girl was to show her mom what she learned. Her mom said, “Wow, Hannah should be a teacher,” and the little girl answered, “Yes, I am learning a lot with her.” I am learning and teaching at the same time I love seeing the children learn and grow. This world emergency has changed us all.