Why I Work in Healthcare: Covid Heroes in Their Own Words

Every day, people are putting their own lives on the line to fight the pandemic. In this section, we have been showing the faces and telling the stories of these heroes. Here is what some of them have to say in their own words about the work they dedicate themselves to. Compiled from various sources.

DENNIS CANALE, 43, physician assistant at Staten Island University Hospital Northwell and NYPD detective Second Grade For the past 16 years I’ve been assigned to the NYPD’s emergency service unit. ESU is an elite SWAT rescue team in the country. This pandemic kind of took me in a different light I walk into the hospital and see the amount of critically ill patients. it feels like a Hollywood movie with people in protective gear that you would never dream of in a hospital setting. I watched one lady pull up and she saw us come to the car all dressed up and she just started crying. I had several people giving prayer hands and a nodding gesture saying thank you, thank you, and they give you the heart sign, and saying thank you so much, thank you so much, god bless you. And it makes you feel good at what you do. It makes you say alright, I’ll go back tomorrow. People who didn’t sign up in the medical field: the physician assistants, the doctors, the nurses, and most importantly the people that clean and repair, the people that are clerical, the people that help all the medical professionals. They didn’t take that job thinking, ‘Hey, I’m going to go out today and put my life on the line.’ I know that as a law enforcement officer I am going to run the risk of death. I know it every day. They don’t. But they’re all there doing it. It’s amazing to watch.

LUIGI CAVANNA, 67, head of the oncology ward at Guglielmo da Saliceto hospital in Piacenza, Italy In early March, when the epidemic hit, the situation in the E.R. was extreme. People were coming in all the time, dozens of them, already in serious condition. Beds and stretchers everywhere. One of my patients was in the E.R. for 10 hours and then she signed a paper stating that she wanted to be taken home. She said she’d rather die in her own bed. So I visited her at home and gave her some medicine. Within a few weeks, she got better. That’s when I realized we shouldn’t be waiting for the Covid-19 patients to get to the hospital. We needed to go to people’s homes, even of those with mild symptoms, and treat the disease before it could get worse. I started to drive around the area surrounding Piacenza with my staff on March 10, and initially we visited as many as 15 people a day. Then we gradually became better organized, and now we have three teams and we continue to work also in the hospital. Above all, we stay in touch with the patients and their families, and monitor the course of treatment on a daily basis. So far we have visited almost 300 patients. We can do this thanks to the hospital’s resources and private donations of protective equipment. Every time we enter a patient’s home we wear two gowns, two masks, caps, shoe covers.

BEN DAVIS, 35, program director and a social worker at Center for Urban Community Services in New York We’re a program at the Center for Urban Community Services (CUCS) working with adults living with serious mental illness. The people in our program have had multiple psychiatric hospitalizations and have tried getting help from clinics and other mental health programs without long term success. The goal of our program is to help our clients thrive in the community without hospitalization and to reach their life goals. If they live in a private apartment we see them at home, if they’re homeless we go and see them on the street, or if they are in a shelter we see them there. We provide psychotherapy, psychiatric care, and assistance with medication and other medical issues. We work with their families, address legal issues, go grocery shopping or help them with cleaning, With Covid-19 our job is different in almost every way. We are looking at all of the things that our clients need and how to prioritize them. Which of those can we only provide face-toface? And which of those can we provide remotely by phone? When we think it is critical we go and see them in person because we need to. This particularly includes delivering and administering medication. We take all the precautions we can when we do this. In less than a week we needed to redesign our entire program and change how we do everything. The folks that we work with are among the most vulnerable in our society. But our clients are survivors. They have been through everything, have lived through things I can’t imagine. They are still here and they’re persistent. I believe that they have that mindset that they’ve been able to get through things before and they’ll be able to get through this now. I try to be optimistic that they’ll be okay. We are there no matter what to help them.

SCOTT GRAY, 49, client center manager at St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance in Phoenix, Ariz. We went from serving 500-600 people per day to, on average, 1,200 a day. The days start off with us coming in at 7:00 and the line is already going down the sidewalk with people waiting in line for food. And to see the elderly out there with their carts, and a mom with kids and they are standing in line at 7 in the morning… [I’ve] never seen anything like this. The first thing in my mind is what do we have available? How can I make it stretch? Donations have increased a lot. People are shocked when they realize they are getting a basket to take home of supplies for the whole family. They see the basket and say, “This is all for me?” Not only am I feeding my family by working, but the families that are in line are feeding theirs. It’s an awesome feeling. I’m worried that this will become the norm, dealing with this many people. Will the food bank become a place we have to shut down because of social distancing? Or because it gets out of control? What are we getting in tomorrow? If I get sick it would have been for a good cause.

CORNELIA GRIGGS, MD My babies are too young to read this now. And they’d barely recognize me in my gear. But if they lose me to Covid I want them to know Mommy tried really hard to do her job.


DR. ASLAM PARVEZ, 42, and DR. SONIA RANI PARVEZ, 41, physicians in Patiala, India It was Feb. 10, I remember the date, that it started to affect our jobs and we started mentally preparing [for Covid-19]. [Our son] Ayaan was having his final exams, starting on Feb. 18, and the day his exams finished, we took him to visit his grandparents by himself. He had not stayed alone there in the past—it’s nearly 60 miles away from our home, and a 1 hour 30 minute drive. There was no pandemic declaration by WHO at the time, but when he left, we were told to have our teams ready by the state government. I volunteered to post myself in a rapid response team, and Sonia volunteered to work in the Covid isolation ward. We were mentally preparing ourselves for this fight for the last month, and figured our child would be safe with his grandparents. With a short training we were ready. We consider it as an honor to serve our people. Now, we may not see Ayaan for quite some time. We are not planning to get him till the pandemic is over, and after that, we will take quarantine for two or more weeks. Sonia sometimes gets teary eyed while talking to him but he tells his mom to keep going as he is a busy, brave kid. I miss him too but I know he is safe away from us.

CLIFF STRAND JR., 50, employee for White Pony Express in Pleasant Hill, Calif. I’m a product of what White Pony Express does for people. About six years ago, one of our executives found me under a bridge in Richmond, Calif., and brought me baskets of food. I was a strung-out-of-my-mind drug addict with a dark soul, ready to die. He helped me. This is absolutely my mission. It’s not a job. I’m supremely blessed to be able to do this. Not for a minute did I consider staying home during this outbreak. It takes that level of fear down to show people that we’re out here and taking the right precautions. I change my gloves at every location and wear a mask. I delivered food to the local shelter, the Contra Costa Interim Housing Shelter, and there’s over 100 people in there. I know those people; they’re my friends. Now they’re behind a wall to prevent the virus from spreading. It brought me to tears. We’re flashing up heart signs and saying, ‘I love you’ through the wall. I was crying, but it wasn’t because there was fear. There’s love going on in this whole thing.

DAVID SAUCEDO, 52, nursing home cook I am having to argue for my supplies. It makes me feel secondary, not equal. You are expendable in a way. I deal with patients who are not capable of taking care of themselves, that have dementia. I accepted that head-on because I have two handicapped brothers. I really care for all my patients. Whatever infections they have, it all is going to end up in the kitchen. The Alzheimer’s patients don’t know about “six feet, keep your distance.” They just come up to you, grab you, and sit and talk to you. I need to protect them as much as I need to protect myself. The last thing I want to do is get one of my patients sick or one of my loved ones sick. When I was in the Navy, when we went to war, I was getting paid hazardous duty pay. Okay, I signed up to work in a hospital, I knew germs were going to be there. But, had everyone knew coronavirus was going to come, how many people would have decided not to work in a hospital? To me, it is a hazardous job right now.

SABRINA HOPPS, 46, acute care facility housekeeping aide Housekeepers are the number-one hero. If housekeeping does not clean the rooms correctly, the pandemic will be worse than what it is. I clean patient rooms in the ICU department. Those are the sickest people. It scares me because I can be cleaning a patient’s room and the patient can have the coronavirus and I would never know. I have asthma, and my son has asthma. My son is a cancer survivor. I am petrified to not know what is going on or what the patients have. If I didn’t love what I do, I could have walked away and sat at home, like half the world, and got unemployment. But that’s not me. The patients deserve better. It is me and the other housekeepers who sit and talk with the patients to brighten up their day, because they don’t have family members visiting now. As long as God put me on this earth, I am going to continue to go to work.

ROSINE SARAH ROSANEL, MD Last night I put down my cardiology hat to be an attending/ hospitalist in my hospital, leading codes and rapid responses. All hands on deck to fight Covid-19

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