First published in the Jan. 13 print issue of the Outlook Valley Sun.
With the latest surge in COVID-19 cases, my mind rewinds to a comment from Dr. Kimberly Shriner of Huntington Hospital. She said that it is too bad that she does not see as many signs in support of first responders anymore. If you recall, such signs sprouted all over the community during the first months of the pandemic.
I thought back further to some reflections last March by Dr. Adam Sharp, whose insights were taken from his work as an emergency physician at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Los Angeles.
One of those insights was remembering the importance of small acts of kindness. He told the group about how his neighbors baked biscotti for six straight months at the height of the first wave of the pandemic. It started out as a project where the family made six dozen of the crunchy cookies — each individually wrapped and packaged in a container, with a note attached that read, “Thank you.”
“I can’t tell you how good it feels to see the eyes of a weary medical resident light up at the sight of free food after a long night shift,” Sharp said at the time.
And now here’s the lesson from Shriner, who is the medical director of infection prevention and control at Huntington Hospital.
“These people are pretty darn tired,” she said. “We need to be mindful that they are working hard to save someone’s life. It’s important. Everyone at the hospital — right down to the cleaning people — is working so hard in dangerous jobs.”
The Pasadena-area communities are known for their tradition of giving. Think of all the charities residents have given to — individually or collectively in a place of worship or at work. Service clubs throughout the year sponsor all sorts of charitable events to award scholarships and support other organizations. Lots of people volunteer on their own — some of them bring their time and skills to hospitals around the city.
But, for many people, COVID-19 fatigue has set in. The pandemic is something we have to live with and cope with when we are out in public. But we need to take time to remember those workers on the frontlines of the pandemic — hospital workers and ambulance drivers, to name a few — who are exhausted and consumed by their jobs. And now, the Omicron variant is stretching even thinner those who are trying to help us and keep us safe.
It’s time for all of us to harken to Sharp’s admonition about simple acts of kindness.
Putting those signs back up would be a good start.
And if you see or know a doctor or nurse, or frontline worker, why not stop them and simply say, “Thank you for your service.” Or send a note or gift cards to the hospital workers, expressing your thanks. That’s something that a group or class could do. (Right now, because of the restrictions, Huntington is not accepting individual gifts of food, according to Dorey Houston, of the community relations department.) Letters can be sent to c/o Volunteer Services, Huntington Hospital, 100 W. California Blvd., Pasadena, Calif. 91105.
Huntington Hospital reports that it has a critical need for blood. Those wishing to donate blood in honor of frontline workers can call (626) 397-5422.
Before we become too eager to rush back to “normal,” let us not forget those people for whom normal has become a nightmare.
For my part, I would like to shower verbal bouquets toward Shriner, who has been on the frontlines as an infectious disease and tropical medicine specialist fighting HIV-AIDS as well as COVID-19. She is director of Huntington’s Phil Simon Clinic, providing complete HIV and infectious disease care for the underserved in the San Gabriel Valley.
She founded, in 2001, the Phil Simon Clinic Tanzania Project, a nonprofit global outreach program in East Africa. The project is a platform for scholarship, post-graduate training for Huntington’s staff and an amazing philanthropic experience for professionals in healthcare and supportive care.
Shriner, who has been practicing medicine for 32 years, said that many of the lessons that were learned in battling HIV-AIDS have been used to more quickly tackle COVID-19.
“I hope that this will be the legacy of those who died from HIV-AIDS that we have been able to make such progress in fighting COVID today,” she said.
One of those things, Shriner and others still on the front lines battling HIV-AIDs said, is that they hope to produce a vaccine or other way to kill the disease, although there are now ways to control it and mitigate its effects.
All of the variants of this coronavirus may act in different ways, she said, noting that they still have added up to the “pandemic of the millennium, with a terrible loss of life around the world.” The Omicron strain, at least in the petri dish and in early reports, may be better at infecting people, but perhaps is not as deadly, Shriner said.
“Maybe we got lucky, in that the virus could have been nastier,” she said.
“We have to follow the CDC guidelines,” she said. “We do need to learn to live with this and to try and keep folks in the workforce.”
Testing is an essential tool for the entire pandemic, Shriner said, and she anticipated that there will eventually be better, faster and more accurate testing platforms on the market.
Shriner said this pandemic has brought many factors into focus — including climate change and controlling breeding grounds for the spread of disease.
“It’s a wake-up call for all of us in the United States,” Shriner said. “We’re not isolated.”
And, she concluded, everything is moving on a much faster speed than ever before, and that social media can be a mixed blessing, sending out false information along with factual updates.
Our telephone conversation was lively, straightforward and understandable. There was not a lot of jargon. For example, she described herself as being “in the middle of a soup bowl as the vegetables go by.” And when I asked her some additional questions by e-mail, she apologized for a delay in answering.
“Just slammed today,” she wrote.