Behind the frontlines: Students’ parents combat COVID-19 pandemic

April 24, 2020 — by Anjali Nuggehalli and Anouk Yeh

As the entire world battles the COVID-19 pandemic, health-care workers stand on the front lines. 

Whether it’s waking up at the crack of dawn or working throughout the night — or both — doctors and nurses are making enormous sacrifices to put a halt to this global frenzy.

Sophomore Isabel Lee’s mother, Dr. Sarah Lee, is one of the millions of health-care workers putting her health at risk for the sake of others.

Lee works as a maternal fetal medicine specialist at the Good Samaritan Hospital as a medical director in obstetrics.

Her primary job before the pandemic was taking care of women with complicated pregnancies. Now, Lee prepares the obstetric unit for patients who are possibly positive for COVID-19. 

Lee also faces the challenge of handling pregnant patients with the virus, which is especially difficult with the nation’s continued lack of personal protective equipment (PPE). She is still responsible for taking care of patients and newborn babies, so she tries to ensure that she and the staff protect themselves as much as possible. 

For her part, Isabel said her family dynamic has not changed significantly during the crisis, but she admits that having a family member in the heat of the pandemic is frightening. 

“We are concerned for my mom, but I feel so blessed to have a family member who is a leader to others,” Isabel said. “I hope patients will be cooperative with her and protocols will be followed within the hospital so she can stay healthy.”

Meanwhile, senior Katie Lam has noticed a shift in her family dynamic at home. With her mother working as an internal medicine doctor and her father as a vascular surgeon at Kaiser, her family has become more distant as both her parents now work for extended periods during the day and even throughout the night. 

In the brief moments when her parents are home, Lam’s family practices procedures that her parents have implemented to shield Lam and her younger brother from the possibility of contracting the virus.

“We do not eat dinner together anymore,” Lam said. “My brother and I eat in our rooms, and my parents eat at the family room.”

In contrast, sophomore Maha Qureshi, whose father works as a radiologist, said that her family dynamic has changed little since the pandemic. 

“We've all been spending more time together,” Qureshi said. “It’s just that my dad has been out of the house a little more than usual because of work.”

Qureshi said she is not worried about her father because he is in a safer position than other doctors working on the frontlines of the pandemic. Her father’s job requires him to “have the least amount of contact with COVID-19 patients as possible.” As a radiologist, her father primarily reviews medical imaging to diagnose injuries and diseases. 

Still, Qureshi is grateful to  her father for working on the frontlines to save lives.

“I’m really proud of him for not getting broken down by the death tolls,” she said. “I’m also proud of the amount of effort he’s putting into his work and how he’s managed to go to work with the same attitude as usual.”

Despite the pride for their parents’ work, the students said it is easy to become discouraged when others disregard the state-mandated lockdown and social distancing procedures. 

Lee said that it’s difficult to see the ignorance on social media, whether it’s posting coronavirus memes or hanging out with friends, especially with her mother on the frontlines. 

“This virus is not a joke, and these people need to get a grip,” she said. “It’s civil responsibility to protect everyone around us, especially the elderly and compromised. To not take that into serious account is arrogant.”

Lam stressed the continued importance of flattening the infection curve.

“Social distancing is important to prevent overcrowding in hospitals so that physicians have enough time and supplies to effectively care for patients,” she said. “We can’t let it get to the point where physicians choose who lives and who dies because we run out of resources.”

 

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At UC Berkeley, PhD student Abrar Abidi and research assistant Yvonne Hao have embarked on a goal of creating hand sanitizer for the Bay Area's most vulnerable populations, including the homeless and the incarcerated. Their hand sanitizer includes glycerol mixed with other products, in accordance with a formula from the World Health Organization. So far, they are producing 120 hundreds of gallons of sanitizer each week. Photo courtesy of Roxanne Makasdjian with UC Berkeley.

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