The Masked Heroes on the Frontline Battle
By: Tanya Young and Mackenzie DeFoney
As the war on COVID-19 continues well into the year with no clear end in sight, the entire world faces pressure financially, mentally, and physically. Among those most affected by the current circumstances are those in the medical field.
“I think there’s definitely some anxiety that goes along with the pandemic,” said Marci Oleson, a Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) at Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital in Geneva, IL.
Coping with having to stay indoors, not being able to visit with friends and family, and potentially becoming unemployed as businesses have struggled to stay open during the pandemic has exacerbated some mental health factors according to a recent study.
Outside of the strains on mental health, healthcare providers have found that there is a general fear of catching COVID-19 within the public, and this has caused some people to avoid hospitals and doctors even in serious situations.
Dr. Mike Panfil, an ER Physician at Edwards Hospital in Naperville, IL described the early months of COVID-19 as eerily quiet. He found that there was a smaller number of patients coming into the hospital, only to realize fear was preventing many from seeking medical attention when they needed it.
“Instead of it actually being really, really crazy busy, it was the opposite. We got really, really quite. We did get some sick people with COVID come in…” said Dr. Panfil. “A lot of people were suffering unneededly. They were coming in two to three days after having had a heart attack or stroke. And we couldn’t help them.”
Many cities are seeing a rise in positive COVID-19 cases as cooler temperatures are bringing more people inside. According to Worldometer, as of Dec. 3, there are over 18 million active cases in the U.S. with a over 106,000 of those cases in critical or serious condition, and currently the total death count is over 1.5 million.
“It has changed in the last three weeks because Illinois has completely blown up,” Dr. Panfil said. “We’re the highest case getters in the country right now. And we are just slammed and no one’s afraid to come in so we’re getting our normal people, plus a delush of COVID cases where people are really quite sick.”
A new aspect of home care has emerged with the changes that COVID-19 has caused. Entering homes for hospice care now means taking additional precautions and tailoring personal protection equipment needs to each individual which has sometimes been difficult with certain items like masks at some points during the pandemic becoming scarce.
“The gloves are always a part of it, you can get the hair coverings, the face shields, and both the paper masks and N95s,” said nurse Beth Karwoski, a hospice nurse at JourneyCare located in Barrington, IL. “You can get booties, gowns, you have to determine what is right for the patients and their location often plays into it. We have a heads up on whether or not they believe our patients are suspected of COVID beforehand so we can tailor what we need to do when we’re in a patient’s home.”
For many patients that receive hospice care in either their own residence or group home, visits from family and friends have become limited and in some cases banned. The relationships formed by hospice workers are often many patients’ only source of outside visits.
“You have a tendency to still get to know them well, but you always have to be on guard about how close you were to the patients.” said Karwoski. “You also want to be more empathetic because you may be the only outside person that some patients are seeing that’s different from their regular staff. You get emotional at times. You put your family at risk at the earlier stages when we didn’t have as much PPE. And I was just thinking, “Am I going to get it? Am I going to spread it to my family? So emotionally it’s been a very trying period.”
With all of the new medical requirements, the drastic changes in how medical professionals can interact with their patients, and how spikes in COVID-19 positive rates can create a huge influx of patients, stress related burnout among doctors and nurses is a serious issue that many hospitals are having to plan for and address.
“Mental health options are available to us.” Karwoski said. “A lot of times it’s talking with another nurse and just being able to problem solve on your own and work through it. But there are resources available if you need them,” said Karwoski.
Testing positive for COVID-19 is a concern for all healthcare professionals that has ramifications that are higher than most. When healthcare professionals test positive for COVID-19, they are no longer able to provide care for others until they are no longer positive. CMA, Marci Olsen, found herself quarantining after being exposed to the virus.
“I think there’s some anxiety that goes along with the pandemic because of that we get emails all the time on who we can contact or who we can talk to.” Olsen said. “They’ve offered mental health awareness, there’s people to talk to if needed.”
To deal with the stress of uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, the CDC has made some recommendations such as contacting a health professional before starting any self-treatment for COVID-19, taking breaks from consuming too much news, meditating, eating well-balanced meals and getting plenty of sleep.
Along with such recommendations from the CDC, doctors and nurses provide more than just the daily doses of medications. They now provide hope for the families who need it most.
“That there’s hope on the horizon, I really do. I just don’t think, I know that 2020 has been a horrendous year in 2021 may not start off the best but you know I think we’re getting better at this.” Panfil said.
While Panfil said there is hope on the horizon, he also believes there will be new societal norms in place like hand sanitizing stations, more routine cleanings, and masks.
“I think masks might have a place, I mean, they might have always had a place with things like the flu and some other things,” Panfil said. “I just don’t think people have a mental powers to wear them forever but if you can get people vaccinated and you can get a good chunk of the population immune to this thing, I’m hoping that that that will people be able to go back to restaurants and feel safe in movies, and not worry about going to Thanksgiving with grandma and grandpa 25 relative. I think we’re going to get there. It would be sad if it didn’t.”