“I am Palmer” is a series of articles written by parishioners at Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church about their experiences in the time of COVID-19. With our close proximity to the Texas Medical Center and Rice University, the Palmer community has a unique insight into the halls of hospitals and laboratories. In this series, we will hear from a research pharmacy technician, an epidemiologist, an elder care professional, an ER doctor, and doctor parents, all serving in different ways on the front lines of this virus.
I am a Research Pharmacy Technician at Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center where I have worked for the past seven years preparing IV solutions for patients. In February, the Research Pharmacist and I began to be involved in setting up clinical trials for Remdesivir and also for a monoclonal antibody for severely affected patients with the COVID-19 virus.
Everyone in the Texas Medical Center had begun to prepare as early as January, understanding Houston citizens would soon begin to be affected by the pandemic; we at St. Luke's were doing the same. The atmosphere in the hospital intensified as the weeks wore on. Elective surgeries stopped. The halls, normally bustling with patients, nurses, doctors, clinicians and visitors, became empty.
Patients started to arrive in mid-March and the numbers ramped up very quickly. As the illness spread, I don't know how many patients we had, but the ICUs on several floors were enlisted to care for the COVID-19 patients. Though the supply chain had been jump started early, the shortages started anyway. It was not only ventilators and beds and PPEs that were needed, it was so much more - kidney dialysis fluids, sedatives and more. When a patient gets this sick, you need all sorts of medicine to help their bodies survive.
Entering the ICUs where the patients are being treated is an intense experience. Doctors and nurses are intensely focused on helping people to survive. Everyone is exhausted, not only by the physical demands of the job but by the understanding of the enormity of need and the emotions involved in caring for desperate people who can't even see their loved ones. No matter what part of the hospital you work you in, it is the same. You feel the stress, the emotions, the worry, the fear. Many times after an eight- or 10-hour shift I'll get in my car and cry. I walk out of the hospital and am surprised by the world outside, people taking walks, families riding bicycles, neighbors chatting on their front lawns, the sun shining. It's hard to reconcile this world after what I've seen and felt in the hospital.
Several moments come to mind as I look back on the past two months:
- The time I went into the ICU and the nurses and doctors began cheering when a patient's oxygen levels improved
- The time the Research Pharmacist went to the ICU to deliver the IV medicine I had just made and the patient's heart was stopping. The patient survived, but we worried all day.
- The day I returned home to find my neighbor standing at the entrance of my garage to give me a bag of masks that had been sent by her family in China
- The meals that have been shared with me by friends on days when I would not have had the energy to make something myself
- The afternoon when my neighbors came over with yard signs thanking me for my work
- The daily calls from friends and loved ones
As the influx of new patients begins to slow, we'll begin to very gradually and carefully open up for other patients and surgical procedures. The Research Pharmacist and I will continue these clinical trials.
And I can begin to reflect on my experience and understand how grateful I have been to be a part of a gargantuan effort to help people in critical need.