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Today - Thursday, March 11th, 2021 - marks one year since the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic. Locally, this Saturday, March 13th, will mark one year since the first recorded COVID-19 death in El Paso County.
We have come so far from the early months a year ago when there was so much uncertainty about what the pandemic meant, and how long it would last.
This week, I spoke with two UCHealth Memorial employees about what things were like one year ago.
Chris Martin, clinical manager of pharmacy at Memorial, says, “First off, it feels like it has been longer than a year, to be honest with you. If I could use three words to describe the last year they would be challenging, chaotic, and rewarding.”
Jessica Yoo is a registered nurse and a nursing supervisor at Memorial Hospital and has been on the front lines of COVID patient care from the very beginning. “One of the things that really has impacted me is that we've experienced a lot of deaths over the last year. When you go into health care, you anticipate that you're going to be a part of people's beginnings and endings, but you don't anticipate that you will be part of it so frequently. Being able to be present with someone and have the ability to sit with them in those last moments and comfort them and let them know that their family wants to be here but can't - it's hard but it's special all at the same time to know that you're helping and comforting them.”
Jessica was one of the first UCHealth employees on the front lines who spoke publicly in April last year, when she said, “I knew when I signed up for nursing that something like this was possible but it definitely brings on anxiety and fear. You're scared that you potentially have the liability of bringing this (COVID) home to your family and so that is very scary and very real.”
When I spoke with Jessica this past week, she clearly remembered the emotions from a year ago. “I do think perspective changes things. Hindsight is 20/20 and we're not at the end of this, but I look back and you always want to be able to tell yourself to take a breath and it's gonna be OK. We're going to come out of this; we may be different, but it may not be a ‘bad’ different.”
And some parts of Jessica’s routine that she was so meticulous about in the early going of the outbreak have endured, such as her routine when she leaves work to go home. Says Jessica: “I think some things from COVID are here to stay. My shoes come off in the same place in the garage, my kids know not to touch them, and the clothes go right in the washing machine. It's a habit.”
While Chris, the pharmacy leader, still has the responsibilities of being the in-hospital pharmacy manager, much of his focus right now is on COVID vaccines. “A year ago today we would’ve been meeting as a management team, trying to figure out things like how much of this particular drug will we need for (COVID) patients for the next week. Can we even get a handle on what that number is? Can we get a handle on how many patients we will see? There were so many unknowns compared to today. It was emotionally taxing because we didn't know, and it changed on almost a daily basis. It was really quite the challenge.”
In our next story, Chris and Jessica will talk about the moments that stand out the most to each of them, and about the new sense of purpose and optimism, they have about where they believe we go from here.
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