COVID-19 has led to sacrifices from caregivers. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Orange County School of the Arts

Column: The adverse effects of COVID-19 on caregivers

Once shopping centers, streets and freeways bustling with activity and life stand deserted and it seems like a scene straight out of “The Twilight Zone.” These changes are seen as significant because they are noticeable, but what about the changes that cannot be seen as clearly, such as those that permeate the lives of those exposed to COVID-19 every day.

It’s no secret that the true heroes of this pandemic are the courageous front-line workers, and most notably the healthcare workers that treat the infected. Yet, although the caregivers who treat the bulk of COVID-19 patients tend to feel the weight of the pandemic on their shoulders, the impact of these circumstances stretches far into the reaches of every hospital and doctor’s office.

After speaking with Daniel Gonzalez, a caregiver at Mission Hospital, I was able to comprehend the gravity within the healthcare landscape during these unanticipated times.

“When it first hit we weren’t really sure of how it was transmitted. We were first told it was airborne, then droplet, then back to airborne, then back to droplet,” Gonzalez said. “We didn’t have the necessary equipment to keep ourselves safe.”

With the unfamiliar virus suddenly appearing on the horizon, healthcare workers feared for the safety of themselves and those around them as it was a constant battle of preparing for the unexpected.

Although Gonzalez does not directly treat cases of COVID-19, his position is heavily involved in the testing and isolation of low-risk patients who show symptoms of the virus. When prompted with describing the most difficult part of his experience with the pandemic he opened up about the constant apprehension he carries with him while attempting to ensure the safety of his family at home.

“It’s mentally exhausting just making sure that I protect myself so I can protect the people in my home,” Gonzalez said.

These anxieties are heightened due to the fact that many of his family members are those who are conventionally seen as having a higher risk of contracting COVID-19. When describing his day to day experiences, his tasks appear to be ridden with precision as a slip-up as seemingly insignificant as forgetting to wipe down his shoes could prove to be the downfall of his loved ones’ health.

What’s more, the fact that this virus still has somewhat of an air of mystery surrounding it, leads to extreme precautions that must be taken around each of his patients regardless of their test results. With the novelty of testing methods to determine if patients truly carry COVID-19, going into work each day can sometimes feel like taking a risk.

“You don’t really know if they’re going to test negative. We have patients that repeatedly test negative but they show all of the symptoms of having COVID. So, the test in itself hasn’t really been up to par so that’s always been in the back of my head,” Gonzalez said.

When asked to compare the coronavirus with anything else he’s experienced before both within and out of his career he described it as unprecedented as he didn’t think he would encounter anything to this degree in his lifetime.

Although he feels incredibly fortunate to be able to have a job that continually supports him during the current economic climate, the changes to his way of living prove to be beyond his wildest expectations. Yet at the same time, his heart still remains open to the patients that he is tasked to take care of each day.

Whereas the easiest thing to do is to simply offer treatment and then walk away, Gonzalez has adopted the role of a temporary shoulder to lean on for those who feel overwhelmingly alone.

“I like to spend time with my patients and be there with them… They want their family and they can’t be with their family so we have to be their family while they’re here,” he explained.

Beyond the detrimental effects reaped around the globe from this pandemic, Gonzalez is able to recognize the bits of good and optimism stemming from COVID-19. Although this disease has shifted social order, among many other elements of our daily lives, it is occurring at a crucial point in time where humans need to realize how much they need each other. Additionally, the coronavirus has allowed society to realize the collective power it holds to bring about change, especially when united.

In regards to the massive increase in support directed at the healthcare workers, Gonzalez is filled with the utmost gratitude. He, as well as his colleagues, take each “thank you” to heart and are all the more incentivized to continue their efforts of serving the community.

As a valuable, yet adverse, learning experience, COVID-19 has transformed the healthcare landscape and truly illuminated the humanity within each caregiver.

“Just have faith and have patience. This didn’t happen overnight and it’s not going to go away overnight,” Gonzalez said. “I get that we all want our lives back, but it’s going to take a while.”