Hear from people taking action against COVID-19
A drive to help others pushes these individuals to overcome the pandemic’s challenges
As the coronavirus pandemic picked up speed this year, some people’s jobs became a nonstop race to help save lives. Here, an emergency medicine doctor, vaccine trial volunteer, protective equipment manufacturer, public health director and others share what 2020 was like for them.
The following interviews have been edited for length and clarity.
Yvette Calderon is chair of emergency medicine at Mount Sinai Beth Israel Hospital. She was on the front lines of New York’s City’s early pandemic surge.
Q: How did the pandemic change your work?
Calderon: It was a very stressful time. it was really important to check in with everyone — nursing staff, faculty, residents, the [physician’s assistants] — just to make sure we had a mental health check. We saw a lot of death, more than I’ve ever seen in a short period of time.
Q: Tell us about your experience.
Calderon: It was very isolating. You saw the fear on everyone’s face, not only the patients, but your peers, your staff. It was just incredibly tense. Yet there was nowhere else that I wanted to be.
Q: What surprised you about the public’s response to the pandemic?
Calderon: Nothing. New Yorkers are awesome. How New Yorkers came together in this crisis, from the 7 o’clock clapping to people going out of their way with food for health providers, making sure that the elderly had [what they needed], kids creating incredible masks and shields for our essential workers.
Q: What has made your job hard?
Calderon: Not knowing. I haven’t seen my mom in several months and I lost my father [to COVID] on April 6. Both of them had COVID. I made an appointment to see [Mom] this week. But [the nursing facility] can call me and say there’s another outbreak and then I can’t see her.
To be a physician that has spent your whole life taking care of patients, holding patients’ hands when they’re at the end of their life, crying with the patient’s family, and to not be able to be with my father was the biggest heartbreak of all.
Q: What gives you hope for the future?
Calderon: Several colleges and medical schools have reached out to me to do presentations on health disparities. What gives me hope is how many incredibly bright, passionate young individuals want to understand [why certain groups are getting more seriously ill]. And actually want to do something about it.