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Employee Inspiration During COVID-19: More Short Stories

Our employee inspiration series comes to a close with a final compilation of short stories.

Our employee inspiration series comes to a close with a final compilation of short stories. These were outlets for UF Health employees to express their thoughts and feelings during the pandemic, as part of the initiative launched by the Center for Healthy Minds and Practice and UF Health Employee Wellness.

Enjoy reading these reflections from employees as we all continue to power through the pandemic.

COVID Classics

Amy Lyndon and Christina Owens, both occupational therapists with UF Health Rehabilitation, shared how they’ve kept their spirits up by creatively rewriting lyrics to popular songs.

The PTs and OTs working during COVID-19 have made up many songs to help our patients and other colleagues in our department laugh a little during this crazy time. We sit in a little office we call “the COVID Cabana” so we had to write this song. We hope you enjoy it.

“COVID Cabana” (sung to “Copa Cabana”)

Her name was Rona / She was a virus / With spikey proteins all around / Swab your nose and she’ll be found / She may cause fever, or diarrhea / Sometimes she makes it hard to breathe / You’ll want to drop onto your knees / But there’s no need to fear / Your team of hope is here / We’ll get you up and we’ll get you better / And you’ll soon be a go getter / At the COVID, COVID Cabana / We’ll help you get dressed and we’ll stand ya’ / Here at the COVID, COVID Cabana / Hi flow and eating / Your O2 we’ll be weaning / At the COVID…your team of hope.

“Pursed Lip Breathe” (sung to “Stand By Me”)

When the time has come / And you’re short of breath / And you need to sit down right away / No you can’t, can’t stop now / No, no you can’t, sit down now / Since the chair is, just too far, far away / So listen, listen / Pursed lip breath / Oooooh / I said pursed lip breathe / Breathe in please / Breathe out slow / There you go.

Finding the Silver Lining

Peter Staiano, DO, current pulmonary and critical care fellow at the University of Florida College of Medicine – Jacksonville, shares how his department has continued to boost morale and support each other during the pandemic.

COVID-19 has truly shaken up the medical community. This is a historical event that we will tell our children and grandchildren about one day. The stresses that have ensued are enormous. This is a disease that has ravaged the community, put strains on our medical facilities, and one that we have yet to fully understand the disease process and the potential repercussions that ensue. As a whole, we are navigating uncharted waters. The challenges of managing this disease are most evident in our department of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine.

COVID-19 is an unpredictable, difficult disease process that has delivered enormous implications on all staff involved. Luckily, our department is like a tight-knit family. The harder times get, the closer we stick together. To deal with these challenges, we have been creative in maintaining morale during these trying times. These include group jigsaw puzzles and sharing home cooking recipes. Our program director brought in “doubles,” a delicious Trinidadian comfort food, and my co-fellow shared his rum punch recipe. We are a small department, but together we have looked out for each other, and through this, have been able to remain perseverant so we can be there for each other, our patients and their families.

From AIDS to COVID-19: A Lesson for the Present

Gladys Velarde, MD, medical director of the UF Health Jacksonville cardiovascular women’s heart program, shares how the COVID-19 pandemic brings her back to her time as a medical student during the HIV and AIDS outbreak. Her article can also be found on the American College of Cardiology website at this link.

As a third-year medical student at one of the busiest hospitals in the country and the world, I learned some of the most important lessons of my life. Tragedy and despair can make you a better doctor. Medical students consider the third year of medical school as the best year, the clinical year. It is a milestone year of sorts, as students get graded on clinical performance and not just textbook knowledge. Students take to the wards out of the classroom, wear the traditional short white coat and pretend they are now “doctors.”

My initiation into this year was one full of excitement, but increased trepidation, many unknowns and at times significant fear. In the 1980s and early 1990s, the outbreak of HIV and Aids swept across the U.S. and the rest of the world. I trained at Bellevue Hospital in New York City during that time. It is estimated that since the beginning of the epidemic in 1980s, 75 million people have been infected with the HIV virus and more than 32 million people have died of it.

The current COVID-19 pandemic affecting many countries in different continents reminds me of those years when – as an idealistic naïve young medical student – I cared for hundreds of HIV and AIDS patients. Bellevue, the oldest public hospital in the U.S. and a place many considered the hub for infectious disease training in the 80s and 90s, was overflowing with HIV and terminal AIDS patients.

I remember gowning and masking, as if I was going to the moon. I remember the fear in people’s faces – the patients, nurses, doctors and students – all facing many unknowns. How long does the virus live outside the body? Is it in saliva? Sweat? Sputum? What is the transmission rate? I saw the worst and best of humanity as a medical student during that time. I witnessed neglect, marginalization and discrimination. At the time, and for a while after, the public considered AIDS a “gay disease.” There were many questions and not enough answers, yet an indomitable will to keep fighting and care for the sick remained in most of us.

As a student in the busy wards of Bellevue, I became an expert in diagnosing Pneumocystis carinii, and distinguishing it from heart failure. Recognizing oral candidiasis and Kaposi’s sarcoma was as routine as recognizing hypertension. I learned of the loneliness, stigma and despair these patients felt. It was difficult to see the isolation they had to endure in addition to physical pain. Their mental and physical anguish will live with me until I die.

However, it is the extraordinary memories of the heroes I saw then that I am reminded of today that keep me hopeful. Those who would do the double shift, the med student who would not go home, or the nurse who would hold a patient’s hand while a resident tried multiple times to get an IV in their collapsed veins due to emaciation and dehydration. My clinical years as a medical student at NYU School of medicine were surrounded by death and despair, from a disease now endemic to our world. However, those years were also enclosed by incredible examples of compassion, heroism, knowledge, ingenuity and pure grit.

They were the best years of my life.

I hope I was able to alleviate the pain for some of the ones I helped care for. Those affected taught me so much and I am eternally grateful. I am humbled everyday by the presence and labor of love that numerous nurses, technicians and other fellow doctors show by caring for our sick every day, especially in these unprecedented times with thousands of COVID-19 patients.

I am overwhelmed by the stories of HIV and AIDS patients sacrificially giving their life saving retroviral medications to patients with COVID-19 to try to save their lives. The solidarity, compassion and collaboration among physicians, scientists, health care workers, public servants, states and nations is unprecedented. The sharing and dissemination of information through social media is reaching us in record time and alerting us of key differences in our collective COVID-19 experience.

There still is much we do not know about this invisible killer, but we can be certain of one thing, we are united in this fight. Margaret Thatcher once said, “You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it,” and here we are fighting again. Our best armamentarium to win this war is our knowledge, compassion, dedication, and love for our fellow man and for this profession we revere.

We hope our employee’s artwork, poems and short stories over the past few months have given you a slight glimmer of hope as the New Year approaches. Find more inspiring posts and updates about our physicians, providers, nurses and staff by following our UF Health Jacksonville social media pages.

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Dan Leveton
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