“It was really scary to watch how fast COVID destroyed his lungs,” recalls Mallory Mandell, second year Pediatric Resident at Massachusetts General Hospital for Children as she nervously recounts the first time she witnessed someone that young die from an acute condition. As she continues to describe this moment, her speech slows down and becomes softer, replaying the moment in her head. “I think a lot of people forget that the pandemic is still going on and it destroys families and is running through families . . .Whenever we think it’s over. It’s really not.”
Mallory states with ease and a nervous laughter that during COVID-19 she also had to take care of adults affected by the virus. She was a little hesitant because her training was in pediatrics, but the hospital was understanding and tried to give her younger adult patients to work with. Last spring, in the hospital, Mallory and her co-workers had to watch over the children whose guardians were admitted to the ICU because the children had nowhere to go. Mallory would sometimes be in charge of letting the children FaceTime the patients because there was no other way to connect them. She was eventually moved back to pediatrics but still dealt with the virus. “Kids started getting sick and that was scary because we didn’t really know what was going on,” she explains.
She takes a long pause. Silence. The reality and frustration wash over her.
“If you’re not seeing it, ya know? You see so many people going out and acting like nothing’s going on. But if those individuals just spent a couple of hours in our emergency rooms or on our floor, I think their perspective would change.”
She admits that her job is hard and can take a toll on mental and physical health. In the moment, when she is with a patient, Mallory describes how she has to put up a wall to try and emotionally separate herself. She is the one who has to call her patients’ loved ones and give them updates which is great when things are going well, but extremely hard otherwise. “You just need to have a release.” That is the only way she explains she can get through. “You need to cry it out, you just need to try to not cry it out at work.” Sometimes it is hard to control. However, she has found if she does cry at work, it makes families more at ease because it shows that she cares. It shows that Mallory sees each patient as a living being, and not just as another number.
Mallory recalls the mother’s reaction when she lost her young son to COVID-19, “Even when his mother was processing losing her son, she was crying, and leaving the unit, but she wasn’t thinking about herself. She was thanking all of us for everything that we did.”
There were 533,291 deaths from COVID-19 in the United States as of March 31, 2021. And at least two out of three excess overall deaths in the United States were caused by COVID-19. People have been suffering with anxiety trying to handle a year of grief, separation and uncertainty. Working in the hospitals, Mallory worries about the lack of attention on mental health with kids and adults. When she screens children for depression and anxiety at the clinic, it is rare to find a kid who is not anxious and severely depressed. And those that are in the ICU tend to have suicidal thoughts. “I just wish there was more in the community that we could connect kids to . . . get them into talk therapy earlier to help process the isolation that they are experiencing right now.” She also explains how the best way to help get kids through trauma is a combination of medicine and talk therapy so that they can create their own tools to cope with grief. She says with annoyance that this is easier said than done because the waitlist for talk therapy for a kid is six months to a year.
For Jacob Sarrel ‘21, dealing with the grief of losing his father last year to COVID-19 in a time of separation is a challenge. But Jacob and his family are able to find support groups to help them feel less isolated. Something that has helped Jacob process his grief is his family’s creation of, This Jabs For You. This platform was created to help those who have lost people due to COVID-19 cope with their loss by dedicating their jab, or vaccine shot, to them. “It helps me remember my dad,” he confidently remarks. “My family and I didn’t want to see him as a number or a statistic because that’s all we were seeing in the news, increases in numbers. So, we wanted to get their face out there, their name out there.”
One of the biggest challenges for Jacob is people assuming his father had passed because he had cancer. When in reality, Jacob said that his dad was headed toward recovery. “It’s sometimes frustrating to hear society sometimes say how it can be justified as a COVID death from an underlying condition,” he said. Jacob uses This Jabs For You and the support of his lacrosse team, to try and move past that. When his dad passed, no one could come to the funeral and it was all live streamed. So, around 20 guys on his lacrosse team did a car parade at his house and talked with him to show their support.
Support is not only important for those who are grieving, but also for those who deal with the reality of COVID-19 on a daily basis. Nicole Gennari is a registered nurse at Central Connecticut Hospital who works on the surgical floor. Her floor never accepted COVID-19 patients because surgical patients are at a higher risk of getting sick. However, after working six months in the hospital she could float to any other floor and, if needed, be placed on the COVID-19 floor. When asked if this was a fear that she held in the back of her mind, she sort of avoided the question, not in an offensive way, but mentally it was easier. She answered matter of fact, that she might be moved and she is hoping that the nurses who are on the COVID-19 floor will lend her a hand if or when the time comes. In the hospital she says it has been nurses supporting nurses instead of the hospital providing that extra support.
When posed the question if health care workers felt Americans were doing enough to acknowledge the lives lost to COVID-19, Mallory and Nicole seem to agree.
“I don’t think the U.S. is respecting the loss of people to COVID,” says Nicole, becoming quite passionate and heated with her answer, as if she has been waiting for the moment for someone to finally ask her this question. “I think more people have been focused on the politics of it. They have been dehumanizing the situation. They are not focusing on the actual people and the lives that have been lost.”
“There’s a lot of mistrust. A lot of denial. And if people could see it . . . if 10 planes were crashing every day, you know killing hundreds of people, I think people would be more motivated to take things . . . to-to take things . . . more seriously,” proclaims Mallory.
Both Mallory and Nicole touch upon the aspects of this travesty turning into a political show. Mallory says she wished there was one media outlet that laid out just facts instead of people trying to tear the country further and further apart.
Getting people to take COVID-19 more seriously is one of the reasons Jacob and his family have been working to get a larger voice for This Jabs For You, not only to raise awareness for vaccines, but to let people know that this exists and can be a support system. And he believes that his dad would truly appreciate what he and his family are doing for him, and others who have lost friends and loved ones due to COVID-19.
“I think he would be very proud of me, my mom and my brother for just how we have all kind of stepped up to the plate. We’ve all been each others’ rock, instead of one person. And, I’m happy with it. It’s definitely tough but I know he’d be happy with how I’ve been doing with how my mom’s been doing. This is way out of our comfort zones. With just being a presence on social media, he’d be smiling down and laughing.”