Across the country, medical professionals are doing their best as they prepare for the worst that the COVID-19 pandemic may bring.
Working long, grueling hours with their faces hidden behind masks, it can be easy for the public to lose sight of the individuals fighting the disease. So a nurse, two doctors and an acupuncturist talked about how their personal and professional lives have changed over the last few weeks, and what they’re expecting to see.
Shira Wolkenfeld’s colleagues at Chestnut Hill Hospital swear up and down that it’s not usually like this. Wolkenfeld doesn’t have much of a choice but to believe them; after all, her career as a nurse began just three weeks ago.
“I don’t really know what it is to not be like this,” she said.
Wolkenfeld came to Philadelphia after living in Israel for a few years. About 18 months ago, she went back to school to become a registered nurse. While she certainly had as much experience working in hospitals as any nursing student would when she graduated, there’s not really an educational substitute for this on-the-job experience,
She works on the medical surgery floor, which does not treat patients with COVID-19. And because she’s so new, she won’t be treating patients with that diagnosis. In the meantime, her colleagues are letting her know: if she can make it through this, she’s going to be a great nurse.
“Everyone has been extremely nice and welcoming,” she said.
Dr. Marc Rabinowitz
It started with taste. Something tasted excessively salty to Marc Rabinowitz, confusing his wife, Beth, who assured him that the salt content was of their dinner was at a normal level. Body aches and a light cough followed for the general internist, who has had a private practice in Southampton for 31 years. He went on antibiotics and, four days later, as his oxygen levels dropped and his temperature rose, he finally checked into a hospital, where he was diagnosed with COVID-19.
For four days, Rabinowitz battled in the hospital. He was fortunate to avoid a ventilator, and is grateful to be home. And while he’s recovering, Rabinowitz says that it is easy to tell how hard-hit he was. He and his wife are active athletes, but he’s found himself winded on laps around the basement since his discharge.
While Rabinowitz was in the hospital, his family received an outpouring of support from the synagogues they belong to. Beth Or clergy called the house constantly to check in and offer their support, and students from Temple Sinai held a candlelight vigil outside his home in Lower Gwynedd (his wife is Temple Sinai’s early childhood education director).
“The show of support from the Jewish community is unlike anything I’ve ever seen,” Rabinowitz said.
While he recovers, he stresses that hope was a balm to him, and believes it can be for others, too.
“I survived this. Other people are going to survive this. And you have to remain hopeful,” he said.
Dr. David Waldstein
Foot traffic is way down for his private cardiology practice in Jenkintown. When he does rounds at Abington Hospital, they’re been “incredibly light.” For David Waldstein, the COVID-19 pandemic has, oddly enough, brought him into a bit of a lull, professionally.
“Anything that’s remotely elective has been basically put on hold, and no one comes into the hospital unless they seriously really feel they need to,” he said.
When Waldstein, who lives in Rydal, does see patients, it’s now almost entirely by telehealth. FaceTime and phone calls only provide a crude approximation of the psychic benefits of having a doctor in the room, Waldstein believes, but his telehealth sessions have gone pretty smoothly, thus far.
If the hospital is inundated with COVID cases, it’s possible that he’ll be pressed into service to provide non-cardiological care to them. That hasn’t happened yet, though.
“So far,” Waldstein said, “the numbers are manageable.”
“Our practice has been completely disrupted,” Cara Frank said.
Frank is a Licensed Oriental Medicine practitioner, widely known by adherents throughout the region. Six Fishes Acupuncture, the practice she owns, has closed its branches at 15th and Fitzwater streets and at the Grays Ferry Triangle. She also owns China Herb Co., which has remained open, with cleaning and distancing restrictions in place
Frank doesn’t know when she’ll be able to safely have patients in for acupuncture sessions again. She and her staff are doing the best they can via telehealth platforms, guiding their patients with herbs and self-massages, but it’s been difficult. (Frank stressed that she and her staff do not treat COVID-19, only that they help manage coughs, fevers and body aches.)
She hopes to see her patients again soon.
“I miss them,” Frank said, “and we miss our practice.”