IAN THOMAS JANSEN-LONNQUIST ’09
June 2, 2020, Underhill, Vermont
A videographer and photographer in UVM’s Office of Creative Communications, Ian Thomas Jansen-Lonnquist balanced work from home with a limited scope of on-site assignments (including the cover photo of this issue) documenting the university during the crisis. Like many couples, Jansen-Lonnquist and his wife, Adelaide Adjovu, a nurse practitioner working at a primary care practice in the Northeast Kingdom, have been sharing work-from-home space during the pandemic. Sitting across from one another at the kitchen table, he edited video footage while she reviewed patient notes. A favorite project in recent months, Jansen-Lonnquist says, was a short video of the UVM Greenhouse in early spring: “It was nice to give people a little break, a moment of peace.”
MEGAN O'BRIEN ’01 G ’08 ’17
An inpatient hospitalist nurse practitioner at Gifford Medical Center in Randolph, Vermont, Megan O’Brien is a native Vermonter and three-time UVM graduate, most recently receiving her doctorate of nursing practice in 2017. She wrote the following in March.
Despite being board certified in family practice and acute care adult gerontology, the many hats I wear are about to be exponentially magnified in the current pandemic. I’m fortunate to be employed by a dynamic organization willing to take bold action and to come together to optimize our response weeks before we’ve seen our first patient, anticipating more than doubling our volumes and work flows. I’m proud to work with a team that values nurse practitioners and to have participated in Gifford’s comprehensive strategizing of resources, training, and ethics. I will serve in many roles during this call to action as I provide complex care at the bedside, manage teams of staff who come to stand with us, as well as rely on my critical care nursing skills to support our nursing staff.
Never has there been such a struggle to balance my professional duties against those of also being a wife, mother, daughter. My husband is a first-responder. We have an eight-year-old daughter and are preparing for possibly being isolated from her amidst everything else in her life being disrupted. I also worry for my own immuno-compromised and aging family members.
The daunting reality of living and working in a small community is that our patients will be people we know—they will be our teachers, our mechanics, our own staff. We must remember how our actions have a ripple effect into the lives of others. In a time when every fiber in you is telling you to “run,” the most grounding thing for me has been to realize there is nowhere to run. We are all in this. I’ve found strength hearing stories of sacrifices to flatten the curve, seen the generosity of people donating supplies and hand-sewn masks.
What is the positive ripple we can put out there? Me? I’m going to take a deep breath, focus, and dig deep to give the best damn care I can.
ANDY DUBACK ’03
April 14, 2020, Williston, Vermont
Photographer Andy Duback continued shooting editorial assignments during the crisis and also developed a project taking family portraits of neighbors in Williston. “This set of photographs is my attempt to show one component of the pandemic: families at home,” Duback writes on his website. “I chose the low camera angle to put these families in a heroic position. I chose black-and-white because, in many ways, these are austere times. I didn’t really choose the socially distanced curbside perspective, but this limiting factor did bring some visual continuity to the photographs. Limitations aren’t always bad. In the end, I look at these photographs as a portrait of a community, my community, in a historically important time.” Pictured: The Smith Family—Rachel ’06, Adam ’03, Porter, and Macy. View the gallery: andyduback.com/documenting-covid
LESLÉA NEWMAN ’77
Lesléa Newman has created seventy-five books for readers of all ages including the poetry collections October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard and I Carry My Mother. She has received poetry fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Massachusetts Artists Foundation. Her newest poetry collection, I Wish My Father, will be published in 2021.
THIRTEEN WAYS OF LOOKING AT LIFE BEFORE THE VIRUS
I remember shaking hands:
damp sweaty hands and dry scratchy hands,
bone-crushing handshakes and dead-fish handshakes,
two-handed handshakes, my hand sandwiched
between a pair of big beefy palms.
I remember hairy hands and freckled hands,
young smooth hands and old wrinkled hands,
red-polished fingernails and bitten-jagged fingernails,
stained hands of hairdressers who had spent all day dyeing,
dirty hands of gardeners who dug down deep into the good earth.
Thousands of years ago, a man stuck out his right hand
to show a stranger he had no weapon.
The stranger took his hand and shook it
to make sure he had nothing up his sleeve.
And that is how it began.
I remember sharing a bucket
of greasy popcorn with a boy
at the movies
(though I no longer remember
the boy or the movie)
the thrill of our hands
accidentally on purpose
brushing each other in the dark.
I remember my best girlfriend
and I facing each other to play
a hand-clapping game, shrieking
“Miss Mary...Mack! Mack! Mack!”
and the loud satisfying smack!
as our four palms slapped.
I remember high fives
and how we’d laugh when we missed
and then do a do-over.
I remember the elegant turn
of shiny brass doorknobs
cool to the touch.
I remember my mother’s hands
tied to the railings of her hospital bed
and how I untied them
when the nurse wasn’t looking
and held them in my lap.
I remember holding my father’s hand
how the big college ring he wore
rubbed against my birthstone ring
and irritated my pinky
but I never pulled away.
I remember the joy of offering
my index finger to a new baby
who wrapped it in her fist
as we gazed at each other in wonder.
I remember tapping a stranger
on the shoulder and saying,
“Your tag is showing.
Do you mind if I tuck it in?”
She didn’t mind. I tucked it in.
I remember salad bars and hot bars.
I remember saying, “Want a bite?”
and offering a forkful
of food from my plate.
I remember asking, “Can I have a sip?”
and placing my lips
on the edge of your cold frosty glass.
I remember passing around the kiddush cup,
each of us taking a small sip of wine.
I remember passing around the challah,
each of us ripping off a big yeasty hunk.
I remember picking up a serving spoon
someone had just put down
without giving it a second thought.
I remember sitting with a mourner
at a funeral, not saying a word,
simply taking her hand.
ALEX EDELMAN ’13
March 25, 2020, Capitol Hill, Washington, DC
From the White House to the halls of Congress to the work of first responders, Alex Edelman covered the crisis in the nation’s capital. “It’s a particularly difficult time to be a photojournalist,” Edelman says. “Our job is to illustrate news by making photos of situations. Most of the impact of the pandemic is visual, yet the pandemic takes place behind closed doors: in people’s homes, in hospitals, in funeral homes, which are spaces that are difficult to access because of health and privacy concerns.” After contracting and recovering from Covid-19 himself, Edelman became a plasma donor and encourages others to do the same: “Donating was one of the most humbling and important things I’ve ever done.”
HALLEH AKBARNIA MD’98
Halleh Akbarnia practices emergency medicine in a Chicago suburb. The following is adapted from her original Facebook post, which was published in the Los Angeles Times on April 11, 2020.
I have been an emergency medicine physician for almost twenty years, which means I’ve worked through numerous disasters. I’m used to the daily grind of heart attacks, gunshots, strokes, flu, traumas, and more.
Yet nothing has made me feel about my work the way this pandemic has: I have a knot in my stomach each day as I head into work at Advocate Condell Medical Center in the northern suburbs of Chicago. It is a sensation relieved only by the empathetic faces and presence of my colleagues, and knowing they are experiencing the same feelings I am—that they, too, understand and accept the profound risks we take each day.
I met my patient, Mr. C., on my first real “pandemic” shift, the first day we began seeing the surge of Covid-19 cases for which we had been preparing. He was classic in his presentation: his X-ray findings, his low oxygen levels. We just knew. And he was the nicest man I had met in a long time.
Gasping for breath, he kept asking if we needed anything, and reassuring us that it would all be OK. He told us he was a teacher but that he was learning so much from us, and he told us how much he respected what we were doing. I felt the same way about him.
We had to decide how long we would try to let him work through his low oxygen state before intubating him—a procedure that involves putting a tube into his lungs to keep him breathing—but his saturation levels kept falling. Despite all our efforts, it was time to put him on the ventilator.
He told us he didn’t feel great about this, but then added, “Doc, I trust you and am putting myself in your hands.” In that moment, the uneasy feeling in my stomach grew. But he, with his teacher’s steady voice, kept me grounded, just where I needed to be. I saw his eyes looking at me, seeing the kindness in them, even as we pushed the medications to put him to sleep.
It was not an easy intubation. He nearly left us a few times during those first minutes, but he kept coming back. We fought hard to keep him with us. The patience and strength of my team that day was truly remarkable. Once the procedure was finished, and knowing that his battle was far from over, I handed him over to my friend and colleague, Dr. Beth Ginsburg, and her team in the ICU. Her calm voice reassured me that they had it from here.
And then, for the next twelve days, I waited and watched his progress, knowing the grim statistics, and how sick he was when he got to us.
With Mr. C., these same colleagues worked their magic and, after more than a week on the ventilator, my new friend was successfully extubated. I decided to go see him again.
Mr C. was in the Covid stepdown unit, recovering, without family. Nobody was allowed to visit him. Even worse, his wife had been home alone in isolation for the past fourteen days, too. My heart broke thinking of how that must have been for her. I cautiously went into his room, wearing my PPE, and when he saw me, he stopped for a second. A moment of recognition. I introduced myself.
“I’m Dr. Akbarnia, Mr. C. I was the last person you saw in the ER. You told me you trusted us to get you to this side. Looks like you did just fine.”
He started to cry. He said, “I remember your eyes.”
Then I started to cry. What he didn’t know is that, at that moment, I realized that the reason we do what we do is for people like him, for moments like these. His strength, his kindness, his calming words meant everything to me. At that moment, my heart (which had been beating at more than 100 bpm since this pandemic began) finally slowed down.
I sat down and we talked. I told him that while he is in the hospital, we are his family, and that he will always have a place in my heart. And whether he knows it or not, he will be my silent warrior and guide as I take care of every patient, Covid or not. He will fuel me until the day I hang up my stethoscope.