On the front line

Sophomores Ethan Chen and Zerik Griffin have parents working in the medical field during the pandemic

The scrubs come out, and the masks go on. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, sophomores Ethan Chen and Zerik Griffin both have parents who work in the medical field. As medical care workers, Weip Chen, Tristy Griffin and Devin Griffin are all experiencing protocol changes at their jobs due to the pandemic. 

“We have to go through a very meticulous process in order to ensure that we are protected, because the last thing we want to do is contract and transmit the virus. Every time I go to work, I always heavily sanitize, change into clean scrubs and wear my N95 mask at all times. It’s become my new routine,” Devin Griffin said. 

Many medical facilities and hospitals have been enforcing strict social distancing and family visitation policies since the beginning of the pandemic. Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Centers and LA County USC Medical Center, which are the respective places of employment for Weip Chen, Tristy Griffin and Devin Griffin, have experienced similar effects as a result of the regulations. 

“A lot of facilities, including Providence, closed down for a period of time when the pandemic first started because of that initial fear,” Weip Chen said. “But after we reopened, I noticed how much more quiet and subdued the hospital was. There aren’t as many people walking around and chatting or nearly as many people as there once were in the waiting or lounge areas. It feels deserted.” 

Weip Chen, Devin Griffin and Tristy Griffin all have different specialities. Weip Chen works as an internal medicine physician and hospitalist, Tristy Griffin works as a pediatrician and Devin Griffin works as a respiratory care practitioner for the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). They are all striving to provide necessary medical assistance for patients during the pandemic. They “recognize the importance” of their positions and hope to “help as many people as possible,” according to Devin Griffin.

Three doctors at the Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center are performing therapeutic procedures on a Covid-19 patient. PHOTO COURTESY OF WEIP CHEN

“I actually came out of retirement because of the overwhelming need for additional medical personnel and staff,” Devin Griffin said. “Doctors are working like crazy to make sure that their patients are in good health. A lot of physicians who were normally in charge of the neonatal unit were called to treat an influx of COVID patients, so I saw it fit to get back into the workforce to provide my services.” 

Both Weip Chen and Devin Griffin have encountered COVID-positive patients, from seniors to infants, where they have had to establish courses of treatment. 

“Most COVID patients we see are usually hospitalized for some sort of respiratory difficulty. Basic treatment is just to give them supportive care and oxygen. More critical patients, where the COVID is severely affecting their organ function, may need to be intubated and hooked up to a ventilator; some may even need to go to the ICU and be given various drugs. It gets stressful at times because you think of all the hardships your patient is enduring, and you can’t help but feel bad for them,” Weip Chen said. 

There is a lot of fear that circulates around COVID-19, but the physicians “hope to alleviate that panic,” according to Weip Chen.  

“There is a lot of misinformation that is being spread about COVID, and it’s causing a lot of fear. I think if people start to take the guidelines more seriously and listen to us as their primary medical care workers, we can all get through this together. Our job is to oversee our patients’ health, so we want people to understand how to take care of themselves,” Tristy Griffin said. 

The healthcare specialists are all aware of the risks they are taking by working in the medical field and treating sick patients. They are jeopardizing their own health in order to supervise patients’ health.  

“Knowing the drastic effects that COVID has had on patients contributes to my nervousness of contracting it and spreading it to my own family. I don’t want to be the reason why the people I love get sick. I’m always mindful and maintain a level of skepticism when I’m at the office. Even though I work at a facility where I should only be seeing healthy kids, there are so many unknown and untested cases. I never know who is going to have it,” Tristy Griffin said. 

The virus has arguably had a profound impact on the general public, mentally and physically. It has also greatly influenced the activities and responsibilities of physicians, according to Devin Griffin.

“Medicine and the field of medicine is constantly evolving, and this virus is an indicator of that, if anything. We’ve seen other viruses like SARS in the past, but nothing like this before. People are dropping everywhere, and it’s pretty insane how quickly we’ve shifted our priorities to more of a COVID-related basis. We try to treat patients as best as we can, but truthfully, there won’t be any monumental changes until some sort of vaccine emerges,” Devin Griffin said. 

As physicians continue to work hard to help mitigate the transmission and manage the effects of the virus, COVID still remains just as relevant as ever: It continues to lurk around LA County.

“The cases have been stable so far, but considering the way people have been acting, wearing no masks and going out with large groups, I think we are heading for a second large wave. People are starting to lose sight of the severity of this problem, and they have developed a more carefree mindset, which is certainly not something we need. It’s very frustrating,” Tristy Griffin said. 

There have been obvious effects on the medical care workers themselves, but children with physicians as parents, like Ethan Chen and Zerik Griffin, are also susceptible to the stress and fears that result from their parents’ occupational duties.

“I admit, every time my dad comes home, there is that initial hesitation where I question if he’s okay. I sometimes get scared when I remind myself that he’s at work with a bunch of sick patients. All I want is for him to stay safe. But on the other hand, I’m super proud to say that my dad works on the front lines. It’s so empowering to know that my dad saves lives,” Ethan Chen said. 

The physicians have had to experience many different situations regarding COVID, both positive and negative. Nonetheless, they persevere in the face of adversity. 

“Sometimes you can have a patient who recovers quickly and other times a patient can be intensely coding [medical jargon for cardiopulmonary arrest, indicating that a patient is dying], to the point where care has to be withdrawn. The virus has a way of manifesting itself differently in everybody, and these unpredicted results can come off as very sudden and sad,” Devin Griffin said. “But that’s the job. That’s what I signed up for. And I try my best to focus on the more miraculous parts. In my experience, when a baby has tested positive for COVID, I see it as an opportunity. When I can assist in helping a baby breathe, I’m helping it hold on to its potential to grow up in such an amazing world, and nothing beats that.”