Costume Designers to the Rescue!

When Elizabeth Carlin-Metz, the chair of the Department of Theatre, received a request for protective face masks for a member of the Vitalist Theatre Company, she sprang into action.

The Knox experience tends to be passionately ingrained for life and results in a very closely knit network–or maybe I should say ‘stitched’ network!”

Lori Myers wears a mask
donated by
Aly Greaves Amidei.

Carlin-Metz and her late husband, Robin Metz, former director of Knox’s Creative Writing Program, founded the Vitalist Theatre in Chicago. Lori Myers, an award-winning actress and inaugural member of the company, works as a doctor of occupational therapy at Brookdale Senior Independent and Assisted Living Home Health Care and Outpatient Services in Chicago. Myers sent out a request to friends for masks.

Carlin-Metz forwarded the note to Knox theatre alumni, and Aly Greaves Amidei ’97 responded. Amidei, who majored in theatre and specialized in costume design, is now an assistant professor of costume design at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. She has designed costumes for Vitalist and for other theaters.

“It is no surprise to me that within an hour of putting out the word that Lori needed masks in Chicago, multiple Knox Theatre costume shop alumni and current students responded from around the nation,” said Carlin-Metz. “Aly was already making masks, so she was able to respond the fastest. The Knox experience tends to be passionately ingrained for life and results in a very closely knit network–or maybe I should say ‘stitched’ network!”

Remaining resilient and adaptable

Sidharth Mahapatra ’01, pediatric critical care physician scientist

I currently live in Omaha and work at the University of Nebraska Medical Center as an assistant professor of pediatrics in the Division of Critical Care Medicine. I also have a courtesy appointment in the Department of Biochemistry where my wet lab group studies pediatric brain tumor pathophysiology.

Of note, flattening the curve does not eliminate or reduce the total numbers of affected patients. Instead, it distributes it out over time so that our medical resources can meet the demand for patient care as cases peak in different states.

Tell us about your work, your duties and responsibilities, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
I have dual appointments at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and the Children’s Hospital and Medical Center, Omaha, as a pediatric intensivist. As such, I staff the Pediatric Intensive Care Units (PICU) at both locations.

At UNMC, we routinely care for patients who have suffered traumas (only Level 1 trauma center for pediatrics in the state); who undergo single (kidney vs. liver) or multi-visceral organ (small bowel + liver + pancreas, only one of two programs in the country) transplants; and critically ill oncology patients (before and after bone marrow transplants or before and after brain tumor resection).

At CHMC, we run a mixed pediatric and cardiac critical care unit (60-40 split). I care for patients who have undergone heart surgeries, heart transplants, have heart failure, as well as general pediatric patients who suffer critical illnesses, such as kidney failure, septic shock, severe acute respiratory distress syndrome from pneumonia, to name a few. I chose to come to UNMC precisely for this reason, i.e., I am actively involved in ALL aspects of pediatric critical care medicine: cardiac critical care, general pediatric critical care, post-transplant care, trauma, and oncology.

Aside from my clinical responsibilities, I am the director of research for the Division of Critical Care. In this role, I mentor the young faculty who have an interest in carving a research-based career in critical care; I actively engage in clinical trials through a collaborative group of ICUs (Pediatric Acute Lung Injury and Sepsis Investigators); and I conduct my own bench research into the pathophysiology of pediatric brain tumors. To this end, I have a wet lab with two postdoctoral fellows, an appointment in the Department of Biochemistry at UNMC, and national funding through the Team Jack Brain Tumor Foundation, along with local foundation funds from UNMC.

Has the pandemic changed your role at work, and if so, how?
The pandemic has not directly changed what I do since pediatric patients have been relatively spared by the pandemic. The incidence of hospitalizations for pediatric patients is ~5 percent, with critical illness being ~1 percent. Mortalities, thankfully, have been few and far between. That said, the pandemic has given me the opportunity to leverage my research experience and national involvement to serve as the site expert in the management of COVID-induced respiratory critical illness and to avail of research opportunities in the investigation of COVID pathophysiology.

I took care of a presumed COVID positive patient in our ICU last week and had the opportunity to generate and finalize our workflow for obtaining emergency use/compassionate use approval from the FDA for the antiviral, Remdesivir. I also attend a weekly international collaborative meeting on COVID in the pediatric population, organized by Boston Children’s Hospital and attended by representatives from over 90 different PICUs worldwide; I also contribute to a national survey on COVID management practices deployed by PALISI. Taken together, I remain actively engaged in the community of pediatric critical care, keeping up-to-date on the management of COVID-related critical illness, educating my group on what I learn through my international collaborations, and expect to get involved in research investigating COVID-related pathophysiology.

More broadly, how is the pandemic affecting what you see at work on a regular basis?
Nebraska has thankfully not been hard-hit like some of our states. Within this cohort, there are only two positive pediatric patients and no pediatric deaths. Across our state, medical facilities are working collaboratively to share resources, including personal protective equipment (PPE), testing capabilities/opportunities, ventilators, etc. So, we’re in good shape to continue to tackle this pandemic should we continue our social distancing practices.

Interestingly, the pandemic has reduced our workload both in acute care and critical care settings. Telehealth has taken a stronger hold in outpatient settings and we are seeing an overall decline in all-cause admissions. This is also owed to a shift in surgical procedures to only life-threatening procedures. Census being low has thus impacted the employee work pool of active providers with non-essential staff being asked to stay home. While this brings into jeopardy overall hospital revenue, which may eventually trickle down to the providers, our leadership has assured us of stability through government relief packages. These contrarian challenges, from say, New York, are a reminder that different areas are being affected by this pandemic in unique ways.

That said, we have yet to see our peak; I’m hopeful that our preparedness will come through when the time comes. Despite these stresses, the attitude has been positive and proactive. We are all simply grateful that we have the opportunity to impact the care and survival of our most fragile patients during this difficult time.

Knox taught me one simple thing—how to adapt to a changing environment. I attended Knox after graduating from high school in Bangkok, Thailand. So, in a sense, I was socially distanced from my security blankets, i.e., my home and my family.

What is a fact and/or piece of advice you can offer to people to help them understand what is happening and how they should respond to maintain their health as well as they can?
At this critical time in our country’s history, the pandemic has yet to peak nationwide. As Dr. Fauci has recommended with social distancing practices, we have to do everything in our power to “flatten the curve.” Of note, flattening the curve does not eliminate or reduce the total numbers of affected patients. Instead, it distributes it out over time so that our medical resources can meet the demand for patient care as cases peak in different states.

The pandemic has also taught us that while pediatric patients are not at high risk, our elderly, chronically ill, and even some young and seemingly fit individuals are all at high risk. While we work feverishly to understand risk factors, pathophysiology, and mitigation factors, one thing remains certain—engaging in proper hand hygiene, social distancing, self-monitoring, and strict quarantining (with symptoms) are the most effective means to keep ourselves, our loved ones, and the most fragile parts of our society safe.

Social distancing, however, should not lead to social isolation. A better term used by some psychologists is distant socializing. It is imperative that we, as a social species, continue to remain connected, through all the available social media outlets out there. Conducting regular meet-ups with friends, families, and the like will enable our minds to appropriately adjust to these extreme isolating measures that have been taken to fight this pandemic.

Is there any way in which your Knox education has helped you adapt to the current moment?
Knox taught me one simple thing—how to adapt to a changing environment. I attended Knox after graduating from high school in Bangkok, Thailand. So, in a sense, I was socially distanced from my security blankets, i.e., my home and my family. Everything was new through this dramatic change, and everything was at first a little scary.

That said, I was not alone and most of the international students shared my sentiments, apprehensions, and fears. Thus, through that seeming adversity of social distancing, we learned to be resilient and creative. We forged life-long friendships; developed international relief efforts; participated in regular expressions of our culture; and strove for excellence in our education.

Through this transformational process, that involved as much out-of-classroom experiences, I feel I developed the skillset and mindset I needed to facilitate moving through this pandemic. Luckily, my wife (Namratra Samtani) is also a former Knox graduate from my class. And I’m sure she’d agree that our formative experiences at Knox College have played an important role in the way with which we have tackled the current situation.

What are you looking forward to once life returns to something more closely resembling “normal”?
I believe we have come upon a new “normal.” This pandemic has reminded us about the importance of staying connected and staying safe; they have also provided us with unique ways to do these while reiterating age-old recommendations. We are engaging in much more prudent hygiene and distancing practices that I hope will mitigate seasonal infections affecting our population. We have begun to understand that there are multiple ways of being productive, that working from home or away from a formal office setting can be just as if not more efficacious in our overall productivity. We have learned the true meaning of spending quality time with our loved ones and in the wisdom of not rushing through life busy in activities every moment of the waking day. So, I am looking forward to us, species-wide, applying these valuable lessons this pandemic has taught us in our new “normal.”

Is there anything else you would like to add?
I would like to thank you for this opportunity to voice my thoughts about how the current pandemic has changed us for the better and that even in the face of adversity our species remains resilient and adaptable to a new norm.

Natural and integrated global community

Knox reached out to some of our graduates who are working in the healthcare industry for their perspectives on the COVID-19 pandemic.

From Stephanie Hasan Detterline ’98
I am an internal medicine program director for a regional healthcare system in the Mid-Atlantic, MedStar Health. I oversee the largest community-based residency program in the US–150 trainees with a future in internal medicine here in Baltimore, Maryland.

My work is in four Baltimore hospitals, all under the MedStar umbrella. We live in Phoenix, MD, in Baltimore County.

Instead of creating a fear of “other,” Knox provided an atmosphere that supported everyone’s right to be different and allowed our differences to be interesting and intriguing and not scary and threatening. It is now more important than ever to see our global community as natural and integrated.

Tell us about your work, your duties and responsibilities, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Before the pandemic, I spent most of my time in administrative work, overseeing the educational curriculum of the residents and making sure our teaching faculty are high quality and satisfied. I met with residents regularly and filled my days with meetings, scheduling, planning events such as orientation and recruiting our next class of trainees.

Has the pandemic changed your role at work, and if so, how?
The pandemic has changed everything. Now our meetings are online, and we spend our time thinking about personal protective equipment (PPE), moral distress, and protecting our trainees from excessive strain and exposure. We are meeting over video instead of in person, making alternate plans for orientation, graduation and recruitment next year, and trying to figure out how to hug people from afar.

More broadly, how is the pandemic affecting what you see at work on a regular basis, e.g., employee workloads, the number of patients seeking help?
In Maryland, the pandemic so far has been more anti-climactic than anything … and that is a blessing! We spend a lot of time in preparation and we are now waiting to see where things go. There are more worried, well, anxious patients who need reassurance and to know they will not be abandoned in their time of greatest need.

What is a fact and/or piece of advice you can offer to people to help them understand what is happening and how they should respond to maintain their health as well as they can?
I would say people should attend to their health, make sure they are exercising daily and maintaining a healthy weight. Any chronic conditions should be well-controlled. They should seek out evidence-based sources of medical information and always seek out the truth.

Is there any way in which your Knox education has helped you adapt to the current moment?
My Knox education has been tremendously important during all of my career and, particularly, at this moment. Knox was the first place I was exposed to people of many cultures and different belief systems. Instead of creating a fear of “other,” Knox provided an atmosphere that supported everyone’s right to be different and allowed our differences to be interesting and intriguing and not scary and threatening. It is now more important than ever to see our global community as natural and integrated. We don’t have time to be afraid of people who are different as we must band together to fight a global pandemic.

What are you looking forward to once life returns to something more closely resembling “normal”?
I am so looking forward to my kids going back to school so I don’t have to be their teacher anymore! I have gained a new appreciation for our educators during this crisis.

I have been so impressed and inspired by the love and goodness of our providers during this time. It can restore anyone’s faith in humanity.

Take the virus seriously

Knox reached out to some of our graduates who are working in the healthcare industry for their perspectives on the COVID-19 pandemic.

From Dr. Adam Nader ’07
I currently live in Miami, Florida, and am employed in a private practice cardiology group. I currently see patients in the office and in the hospital.

Tell us about your work, your duties and responsibilities, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
I have been involved in the care of COVID-19 patients in both settings. Prior to the pandemic, I would perform outpatient clinical cardiovascular services which include clinical risk assessment, echocardiogram (both non-invasive and invasive echocardiogram studies), stress test, electrocardiogram interpretation as well as inpatient care of patients with cardiovascular disease and illnesses.

Please help the vulnerable, those in the healthcare field, and society at large by staying home.

Has the pandemic changed your role at work, and if so, how?
The pandemic has changed the landscape of my profession. In addition to taking care of COVID-19 patients, the pandemic has caused us to change the method of which we interact with our patients. This has led to the usage of telemedicine widespread for the first time (previously only used for rural medical practice). I find myself engaging in this method frequently now instead of personal face to face interaction with my patients. Also in the hospital, the constant use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and disinfecting medical equipment has become even greater of a necessity than it was before.

The pandemic has also led me and others in my profession and field to be concerned and disappointed at the availability of PPE. This is more of a concern for certain members of the healthcare field than others, of course, but it is distressing to feel that my colleagues are being placed on the lines without adequate means to protect themselves from a highly contagious virus. The Washington Post reported to date 9,000 members of the healthcare profession have been infected from COVID-19.

What is a fact and/or piece of advice you can offer to people to help them understand what is happening and how they should respond to maintain their health as well as they can?
My biggest piece of advice for people is to take this virus seriously. It can affect the young and old and you can even spread it without realizing it to a vulnerable person. Handwashing, avoiding touching your face, social distancing, and wearing facial covering is extremely important during these times. Please help the vulnerable, those in the healthcare field, and society at large by staying home.

I am truly looking forward to the day when I do not have to worry about bringing the virus home to my family.

There are many heroes

Knox reached out to some of our graduates who are working in the healthcare industry for their perspectives on the COVID-19 pandemic.

From Patrick Dooley ’11, laboratory supervisor, Massachusetts General Hospital’s Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, Boston.

I help with the final signout of clinical neurodegenerative cases both histologically and neuropathologically, while also facilitating researchers with their neurodegenerative disease research by dissecting frozen, formalin-fixed, and fresh tissues. I also supervise the maintenance, implementation, and transfer of our current databases, assist with data analysis and lab publications, and keep track of over 2400 frozen and fixed brains donated to our institution.

The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed my role at work, from working 90 percent in a wetlab to working 100 percent from home on database management, data reconciliation, and analysis.

The pandemic has hit research facilities incredibly hard, especially those with time-sensitive experiments such as animal models, ex vivo cell models, and animal behavioral studies. This will have a large impact on research facilities moving forward, especially those like Alzheimer’s Disease Centers, that rely on postmortem tissue donations. Because of the shortage of both personal protective equipment (PPE) and COVID-19 tests, we have not accepted any new specimens due to a lack of testing postmortem individuals.

While medical workers are indeed essential and heroes, we should take this unprecedented event to look at retail workers, grounds workers, sanitation workers, etc., and realize that they are just as essential and just as heroic.

I’m looking forward to enjoying more outdoors time, and the efforts that will help us deal with the world post-pandemic.

Long-term commitment to fighting the virus

Knox reached out to some of our graduates who are working in the healthcare industry for their perspectives on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sam Jarvis ’09 works in public health/emergency preparednessas a community health manager.

I live in Iowa City and work at Johnson County Public Health (the county Health Department).

Tell us about your work, your duties and responsibilities, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
I’m the community health manager and oversee several programs which include tobacco cessation and prevention, integrated testing (for Hepatitis C and HIV), communicable disease prevention (which includes tuberculosis), emergency preparedness, employee wellness, and the department’s community health needs assessment. My role is primarily administrative. Prior to my current role, I was the department’s emergency preparedness planner.

Has the pandemic changed your role at work, and if so, how?
Yes, and dramatically. The community health division has our communicable disease and emergency preparedness program, so we’re directly engaged in the response. As a health department, our director is the incident commander for the county response which involves coordinating with several dozen agencies. Our emergency management agency has opened their emergency operations center seven days a week and is coordinating a lot of other operations and logistics as well. It’s a key player in this.

My ad hoc emergency response role is liaison officer, and was operations section chief until we expanded. Much of our work in the division is health education and outreach. With social (physical) distancing mitigation measures in place and county offices closed to the public, that has altered. Many of my coworkers have shifted their duties to assist with the response either to perform disease investigations, collaborate on public information projects, or a variety of other tasks to support the response. Government agencies work a 40-hour week Monday through Friday typically, but since our first case, there’s a good amount of us directly engaged, putting in a bit more hours and working various shifts, or adjusted schedules, and through weekends. It’s been necessary to stay on top of the workload and the changes either in disaster declarations or state or federal guidance.  

We have scheduled meetings internally and externally that are solely dedicated to the response and much of what goes on in those meetings throughout the day drives our schedules. It’s always difficult to describe in detail what “coordination” is, but keeping everyone up-to-date and on the same page when making decisions takes time.

More broadly, how is the pandemic affecting what you see at work on a regular basis, e.g., employee workloads, the number of patients seeking help?
We make contact with every positive case and conduct the investigation and contact tracing. Since there’s evidence of community transmission in Iowa (and everywhere in the United States) we know there are lot of ill persons who don’t get tested, but those that do and, especially as we see more testing options become available, we see more cases, and that directly impacts our workload. When mass testing at a facility due to an outbreak occurs and those persons are residents of our jurisdiction, that impacts our workload, but that’s also why we’ve onboarded other internal staff to assist.

My day usually consisted of meeting with other programmatic staff and community partners in the various programs I mentioned before and project planning, but now it is entirely devoted to the COVID-19 response. While we’re managing the issues that arise during the week we also plan for next steps, but it’s a bit difficult to predict when something like this hasn’t happened before.

Public health primarily plays the role of strategist or “connector and convener,” so while we don’t directly treat patients we coordinate with many agencies that do direct services.

What is a fact and/or piece of advice you can offer to people to help them understand what is happening and how they should respond to maintain their health as well as they can?
Be patient. Most understand the importance of distancing, hand hygiene, and cough etiquette, but we’ve got to keep that up. Our efforts to fight this need to be thought of as long-term commitments and that becomes more difficult every day many of us are at home. Physical distancing and stay-at-home orders have had a dramatic impact on everyone, but especially teachers, caregivers, and families without daycare, so keep them in mind too.  Humans are social and to tell everyone to stay physically apart is hard so reach out to friends and family and often. COVID-19 is a part of our lives now and its going to be difficult to adjust to, but we’re all in this together.

Is there any way in which your Knox education has helped you adapt to the current moment?
I was biochemistry major so having that background helps tremendously. Public health is a broad interdisciplinary field, but having a strong science foundation is important, at least when dealing with communicable disease.

Another major part of Knox that carries with me as a professional was the experience taking Intro to Gender and Women Studies with Dr. Kelly Shaw. Developing and continuing to develop that perspective has been crucial to being a thoughtful public health and emergency preparedness professional.

What are you looking forward to once life returns to something more closely resembling “normal”?
Going out to dinner with my spouse, Dr. Kate Jarvis ’12–it’s one of our favorite things to do here in Iowa City.

Visiting friends from Knox–I keep in touch with a lot of classmates and guys from the fraternity.

Visiting home in Galesburg and cruising the strip as I did in high school.

People watching too … to sit and relax at an outdoor event and feel the energy would be nice.

Is there anything else you would like to add?
Take time to unplug from the news and social media and take time for yourself. This disruption and shift in daily life is stressful if not traumatic, so go easy on yourself and others. The weather is getting nicer in the Midwest, so I’ve been running here in Iowa City. It’s certainly not the same as going for a run in Galesburg though.

Adjust your mindset and get used to the “new normal”

Knox reached out to some of our graduates who are working in the healthcare industry for their perspectives on the COVID-19 pandemic.

From Stephanie (O’Brien) Schmidt ’08, director of operations Women’s & Children’s, Academic Medical Center Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU), Portland, Ore.

Tell us about your work, your duties and responsibilities, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
OHSU has 576 beds including 151 devoted to Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. Reporting to the vice president of Women’s and Children’s, I support the operations of our children’s hospital and women’s services. This includes both strategic projects like expanding service lines and community partnerships as well as managing over 30 staff members from child life specialists, echo sonographers and a group dedicated to pediatric population health.

Leadership only works if people feel supported and the baseline communication skills are critical as the environment changes every day.

Has the pandemic changed your role at work, and if so, how?
The work from home mandate was established for all non-essential employees including management almost a month ago. This was challenging because a majority of my staff are “critical employees” who are required to stay onsite. Those who were deemed non-critical got placed into a labor pool to help support other areas of the hospital like logistics and food services. All strategic work has stopped including any expansion projects or those that required additional resources like capital or new employees.

Every night OHSU communications sends updated information on how we are responding to the pandemic including paying people for their time, appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), new visitor policies, etc. All work has shifted to ensure frontline staff are equipped with the latest procedures and PPE.

More broadly, how is the pandemic affecting what you see at work on a regular basis, e.g., employee workloads, the number of patients seeking help?
All elective surgeries have been postponed at OHSU to respond to the surge in projected patients. Oregon’s quarantine response has resulted in a dramatic dip in actual cases. We continue to work to be prepared but the volume of cases in Oregon is manageable therefore our hospital census is low. On the ambulatory/outpatient clinic side we are finally seeing the push towards telemedicine where over 80 percent of our visits are now done virtually. This is a huge win for the industry and our patients who travel for hours to receive specialized care.

Due to the decrease in volume OHSU is projecting over a $400M loss this year. Our president has guaranteed that everyone will receive pay until June 30, the end of our fiscal year. Thereafter we could see layoffs or cut salaries to offset the financial impact. It is a Catch-22 because once restrictions are lifted we will be flooded by all the non-emergent care that has been postponed and we will need to maintain staffing levels to respond.

What is a fact and/or piece of advice you can offer to people to help them understand what is happening and how they should respond to maintain their health as well as they can?
Oregon is a fantastic example of slowing the spread, the West Coast took the mandates seriously closing hiking trails, bars, salons, etc. After about a month in, people are starting to feel the social pressure of needing to get out but we need to learn from other countries that have “opened” up too soon. Advice would be to adjust your mindset and get comfortable with this new normal for the foreseeable future.

Is there any way in which your Knox education has helped you adapt to the current moment?
Knox provided a strong foundation in critical thinking and communications through the liberal arts education. Leadership only works if people feel supported and the baseline communication skills are critical as the environment changes every day.

What are you looking forward to once life returns to something more closely resembling “normal”?
Our communities will rally around small businesses to keep them open. I am eager to see how this “distancing” will impact the healthcare industry, if telemedicine really becomes the new normal rather than a sexy new strategy. It is akin to the education industry which is going through a similar shift moving from in person to online. Healthcare has always had a long road to become a “millennial centered” industry and COVID-19 is the exact push to get us out of the past. Healthcare still uses pagers and fax machines!!

Is there anything else you would like to add?
Healthcare workers are brave and work really hard to serve our community. Each frontline worker should continue to be honored for their commitment to humanity.

Healing professions have been wounded

Knox reached out to some of our graduates who are working in the healthcare industry for their perspectives on the COVID-19 pandemic.

From James C. Salwitz ’76, physician, multiple offices and hospitals in Central New Jersey.

My work is roughly divided into several separate, but complementary and overlapping areas. My primary practice is as a medical oncologist and hematologist for adult patients, with Regional Cancer Care Associates (RCCA), a large (136 doctors) physician-owned and -managed practice, with offices throughout New Jersey, Connecticut, and Maryland. In that role I see adult patients with a wide range of primary cancer and blood diagnosis. It has been the great honor of my life to serve the community in which I live.

In addition, I serve as the elected president of the medical staff of Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, the largest academic medical center in New Jersey. In that role, which I have held for more than five years, I help to coordinate the medical care given by some 2,000 clinicians in a wide range of medical specialties. I serve on the hospital board and on the board of the RWJ-Barnabas Health system. The latter is a network of 12 hospitals, several hundred outpatient facilities, and is the second largest employer in New Jersey.

Finally, I have the honor of teaching as a clinical professor (volunteer faculty), at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. There, I have taught topics around death and dying, and medical management for some 25 plus years.

In addition, in a connected sort of way, my wife (a Rutgers grad) serves as a New Jersey Assemblywoman, where she chairs the Environmental Committee and is co-chair of the Health Committee. I have the opportunity to support her work at the state level, much as her work complements mine.

Nonetheless, we must be conscious that for many, who have watched members of their community, friends and colleagues suffer and die, this event will leave a deep wound in all the healing professions.

The COVID-19 crisis has resulted in a radical change in our state, community, and in the work that we do. At the medical practice level, RCCA has required a radical reconstruction. We needed to protect our active cancer patients, especially those on chemotherapy, radiation, or needing/recovering from complex surgery. If the virus “took hold” in any of our offices it could devastate patients and potentially our staff (sub-specialists such as chemotherapy trained nurses are critical). At the same time we must continue to give care to thousands of patients who need to monitor their disease, outpatient treatments, and labs. Therefore, we stripped our offices of staff who did not need to be physically present, moving several hundred computer workstations to homes, so that staff could work. We rebuilt our office schedules, so that only active treatment patients are allowed. We changed the density of both patients and staff in the offices. We developed a rotational schedule for nurses, nurse practitioners, and physicians, to decrease the probability of losing several simultaneously. We shifted heavily to a telemedicine platform.

The hospital experience has been, to some extent, the opposite. There, we have done everything possible to defer providing conventional medical care (which in our case includes level-one trauma, complex neuro and cancer surgeries, as well as heart, kidney, and bone marrow transplants) and moving the hospital to about 80 percent COVID. This requires complex cooperative planning to balance acute medical need with risk in a rapidly changing environment. We have restructured people, space, equipment, and flow. Fortunately, in our immediate area, and because of superb leadership, as well as our size, we have been able to keep up and stay ahead of demand.

However, it is a challenging time, as this disease threatens not only our community, but our caregivers as well. They work in frightening environment full of unnatural death. We are blessed with a fabulous team and are saving, on the inpatient and outpatient setting, thousands of lives.

How do you protect yourself, other than taking this highly contagious virus extremely seriously by social distancing, masks, and a lot of handwashing? Get rest, exercise when possible, eat well. Understand that this will pass and that the changes we make going forward will protect us. Pace yourself. Expect change, and adjust. This is not your fault, but it is your responsibility.

Knox taught me that I will fail, and that in that moment, to focus, learn, and rebuild. The school taught me the value of methodical work. Knox taught me the value of being a continuous learner. It taught me about curiosity. It added to my faith in my fellow man.

We are moving into a new normal. Some things will never go back. It is hard to believe that people will not get the message that high-quality virtual communication, whether it is running teams in crisis or telemedicine, is not a vast and efficient improvement. Much of the trust and collaboration created during this event will be the foundation on which we build new innovation, investigation, and discovery. Perhaps, the pain we have shared, through the terrifying journey, will make us better people and leaders.

Nonetheless, we must be conscious that for many, who have watched members of their community, friends and colleagues suffer and die, this event will leave a deep wound in all the healing professions. Our youngest learners, medical, and nursing students, now look at their chosen profession with fear, instead of wonder. We will have to consciously rebuild and heal each other in order to find hope and build future dreams.

At the Emergency Management Agency

From Kevin Moore ’02

I am the personnel and labor administrator for the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA). IEMA is the state agency responsible for coordinating the state of Illinois’ response the COVID-19 pandemic. I am so proud to work with the emergency management professionals at IEMA. My colleagues have risen to the occasion to provide crucial coordination and management of Illinois’ response efforts to COVID-19.

My role has been to support our dedicated employees with emergency hires and additional personnel while also making sure our routine HR functions continue so that my colleagues can focus on the work that needs to be done and not have to worry about payroll, insurance, etc. I’ve also been involved in establishing the safety protocols that we are using at the State Emergency Operations Center to ensure that personnel working there remain safe and healthy.

Photo of the pool area of the Pacific Princess cruise ship, taken in March 2020. A single man stands in the pool. It is surrounded on all sides by rows of mostly-empty lounge chairs. In the distance, you can just see a single couple at the far end.

Q&A with James Nordin ’67, one of the last remaining cruise ship passengers still at sea.

When James Nordin ’67 and wife Linda departed Los Angeles for a three-month around-the-world cruise on January 20, they had no idea that COVID-19 would cut their dream vacation short. Though most of the other passengers disembarked in Australia in late March to fly home, the couple opted to remain on board and return with the ship to California. 

He emailed Knox about this unexpected journey from his current location, somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.

Tell us about your trip so far.

Linda and I left L.A. on January 20 bound for Hawaii, Tahiti, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore,  Sri Lanka, the Maldives, the Seychelles, Madagascar, and South Africa, then across the Atlantic, through the Caribbean and the Panama Canal, and back to L.A. We made it to Australia before the coronavirus changed everything. We visited eight ports in Australia rather than four, then headed for Sri Lanka. We were not allowed to disembark; we could only refuel and restock food. On March 12, the cruise line announced the cruise was terminated, and we headed back to Australia. On the way, we were told that all passengers would disembark in Perth and be flown to their home airport.

How did you make the decision to stay on board?

By this time, we knew there had been deaths from COVID-19 elsewhere and that the infection rate was accelerating. But there was no illness on our ship and plenty of food and water. We had lots to read, and we are pretty good company for each other. We both get sick on long flights, and kind of insisted we stay on board. We had to sign a waiver, but we stayed. 

We were supposed to sail to Sydney for refueling, but Sydney wouldn’t let us dock. Instead, we stopped in Melbourne. Docked there was the 3,000-passenger Golden Princess with no passengers on board. The logistics of moving that many people in a short time span with airlines closing down is mind-boggling.

What’s it like on board these days?

About 500 passengers and 35-40 crew members disembarked. There are now 350 crew members and 115 passengers on board. None of the entertainers left. So we continue to have shows a couple of times a week.

Are you worried about getting sick?

No one on this ship has been ill since we left L.A. 70 days ago, and no one has boarded the ship for more than two weeks. We are a floating quarantine!

What happens next?

We are on our way to Honolulu, where we are supposed to stop to refuel. The captain has alerted us that none of this is certain (as we have learned from the zigs and zags of this adventure). We hope to return to L.A. around April 20. We plan to rent a car and drive back home—assuming we aren’t quarantined in L.A.—and, of course, assuming we are allowed to dock! Meanwhile, we are well, safe, and have a comfortable place to stay. We know the direction we are headed; we just don’t know if that will get us anywhere.