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Healthcare Heroes: 10 Months on the COVID-19 Front Lines


What is it like to have battled the COVID-19 pandemic for almost a year? The Cedars-Sinai Newsroom reached out to some of our #HealthcareHeroes to find out. 

Toughing It Out; Grateful for the Vaccine

When Joni Stokx, RN, heard that the COVID-19 vaccine was coming, it brought her to tears. A nurse at Cedars-Sinai Marina del Rey Hospital, she's been caring for COVID-19 patients for 10 months. While she and her co-workers wear all the recommended personal protective equipment (PPE) and take lots of precautions, getting the vaccine will help her feel safer.

"Anything that can help with the stress and ease my mind a little bit—it just brought me to tears," Stokx said in a new video, one of several featuring Cedars-Sinai nurses and physicians on the front lines of the pandemic.

A military veteran, Stokx said this year feels comparable to when she served in Iraq. She is grateful for the fellow nurses on her unit who have been "picking each other up when they're down" during this challenging year.

"We're one big family," she said. "There's kind of a sense we're in the trenches together. And most people don't know what it's like to be in the trenches. So the only people that really do understand are the people that we work with."

In addition to treating COVID-19 patients, Stokx contracted the illness in the spring. Though she recovered after a couple of weeks, she grappled with the long-term effects of the novel coronavirus, including intense headaches and fatigue.

Despite the loneliness, exhaustion and depression, Stokx said she and her co-workers at the hospital are pushing through. "We're all going to get through this. We just got to tough it out, and hopefully not for too much longer. But we're trying our best and we're very resilient."

Committed to Others

Treating COVID-19 patients in the intensive care unit (ICU) at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center for 10 months has helped nurse Melissa Rue, RN, feel more confident, but she is still shocked to see how quickly a patient's condition can deteriorate.

"At any minute of any point in the day, they can surprise you and go in a different direction," Rue said. "You have to figure out what to do on the spot."

Despite all the challenges of caring for so many sick patients for so long while taking care of herself, she feels honored to be there at the bedside and serve as a bridge for patients' families.

"I was meant to do this. I was meant to step up and really help with the challenges in the community," Rue said.

She is hopeful that the COVID-19 vaccine will help slow the spread of the coronavirus and ease the ongoing outbreak. "It's an honor to have it be available at Cedars-Sinai and to be one of the first people to get it in California."

Now We See Everyone Getting Sick

While the beginning of the pandemic brought many older, high-risk individuals to the hospital, Emergency Department physician Elizabeth Moye, MD, says she's been treating a much wider variety of patients during the current surge.

"Now we see everyone—young, old," Moye said. "Some of them get very, very sick, even though they're young and relatively healthy."

Moye added that a wide range of people are suffering and scared, and she has to be strong for them no matter how tired she may be. "You have to have the emotional energy to be there for them, and to witness it, and at the same time help them through it."

Even though she didn't expect her year to look this way, Moye feels she's risen to the challenge with the support of her co-workers. "I'm really grateful for the people I work with and the environment I'm in, which allows me to really take care of patients in the best way possible in this pandemic."

Hard to See People Not Take This Seriously

Operating full steam ahead for 10 months is starting to cause fatigue among her colleagues, said intensive care specialist Isabel Pedraza, MD, director of the Medical Intensive Care Unit at Cedars-Sinai. But they still continue to do their job "exceptionally well."

Pedraza said the hardest part is watching the suffering that patients and their loved ones have to go through in this months-long battle, and then to see that others don't take the virus seriously.

"To sort of walk outside or drive home and see people congregating without masks and see people on TV, wearing it as a badge of honor that they're not wearing a mask, it can be very, very demoralizing," Pedraza said. "It feels as if your work doesn't mean anything, and the people that you've watched die don't mean anything. Their suffering doesn't mean anything."

Grateful to the Community

Early in the pandemic, pulmonary critical care specialist Oren Friedman, MD, flew to New York City to support his colleagues there when they were overwhelmed, before returning to Cedars-Sinai to care for COVID-19 patients at home. As much as he's given to others, Friedman is grateful for all the support he and his colleagues have received from the broader community.

"From the bottom, deep down bottom of my heart, I want to thank the community for their support, whether it be food, whether it be finances, or medical supplies," Friedman said. "We can't do it without the community."

As many people may be drawn to spend the holidays with others outside of their household, Friedman hopes they exercise caution to protect not only themselves but those around them as well.

"People may think, 'Oh, I'm going to take a gamble on myself,' and not realize that really, what you're saying is you're taking a gamble on yourself and everyone else."