Orinda Essential Workers Chronicle Their Experiences

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(Kathy Enzerink, Photographer)
Within one minute of receiving a 911 medical emergency call, firefighter and paramedic Josh David (above) at Orinda Fire Station 45, dons his gear before entering the ambulance as fellow firefighters climb into the cab.

    Essential medical personnel who work or live in Orinda shared stories after their challenging last year facing the COVID-19 pandemic.
    “A year like no other” repeated the frequent refrain of frontline workers dealing with medical emergencies at Fire Station 45 on Orinda Way in January.
    Orinda Station 45 firefighter and paramedic Josh David voiced particular concerns for his patients at the start of the pandemic, “Our job is to calm and comfort the patient, but I’m sure we looked and sounded scary in our Hazmat ‘bubble’ suits with goggles, masks with air filters and air bottles on our backs. It was heartbreaking to see patients with severe respiratory distress and weak with fever as we worked to make sure they were hydrated and breathing well.”
    Orinda residents who serve as doctors of primary care, emergency medicine and pediatrics, both locally and in surrounding communities, echoed this sentiment as they chronicled their experiences. To protect co-workers and families, including their own, doctors noted healthcare pivoted to virtual delivery, which in turn ushered in a whole new dynamic for the families of their patients.
    Still, in response to the increasing need for care, many doctors volunteered for additional duties in ICUs or followed up with recovering patients. Along the way, unanticipated outcomes emerged, fostering stronger teamwork and communication in their departments as well as an outpouring of patient appreciation for these undeniably empathetic essential workers.
    Oakland Kaiser primary care physician Dr. Kristen Sueoka Hoover noted adaptions to meet COVID-19 challenges were remarkable, “We were surprised how acute medical needs could be handled virtually. We can send a patient home with finger probes to measure oxygen saturation, and patients can send us blood pressure logs and help us monitor their diabetes.”
    Hoover, along with other doctors on her team, volunteers to help post-hospitalization patients with the transition home. She said patients have been exceedingly grateful. She also praised family help getting elder relatives online, “The mix of virtual and inpatient care can translate into less social isolation for the elder patient, while an adult daughter appreciates not missing work to take the patient to us.”
    Pre-COVID-19 it was helpful to have family members bedside, according to Kaiser Oakland emergency medicine physician Cheryl Lynn Horton. She said, “The family could share important patient information with the ER staff and ask questions. They could actually see the purpose of a patient’s tubes, for example, allowing them to put the pieces of the puzzle together for better understanding.”
    During COVID-19, Horton noted, patients typically come to the emergency room alone, making it much more difficult for the family to understand that a patient is comfortable and not suffering when they get a phone call from ER or the ICU, where Horton also volunteered during the worst of the pandemic. Horton termed 2020 a year full of surprises as she witnessed staff continually checking in with co-workers through the seemingly endless health crisis.
    Serving newborns to 18-year-olds, Kaiser pediatrician Lubna Hasanain found many of the adults who often brought teenagers, otherwise marooned at home during the pandemic, to the clinic had themselves come to her as kids during her 21-year Walnut Creek practice. Hasanain said that even at a time when teenagers tend to identify with peers more than parents, “not a day goes by that we don’t hear from parents concerned about their child’s anxiety.” For that reason, she recounted, during this pandemic year “we decided to keep our clinic open in combination with remote delivery through video and telephone appointments – which in themselves necessitated a deep learning curve among the eight pediatricians on our staff.” Hasanain added with a laugh, “we also found the cookies and cards received from appreciative families during the pandemic particularly rewarding.”
    Nazia Sheriff launched Olive Leaf Pediatrics in Orinda two years ago in a quest to practice personalized medicine as a community doctor. She specializes in newborns and still makes house calls with safety precautions. She said, “It’s a tough time for struggling new parents who are disheartened that support systems they envisioned can not be put in place. I try to reassure them that the baby has parents who love them and in many cases are more bonded with them as one or more parents work from home with fewer 
distractions.”
    Sheriff also heralded the fact that despite the post-holiday surge of the virus, younger children often have milder cases of 
COVID-19 and that an unexpected pandemic outcome of sheltering-in-place had been the reduction in colds, fever, tummy and earache illnesses common during the winter months among newborns.

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