Vassar on the Front Lines

Voices from a Pandemic

Rachel Rivera ’89

Dr. Rachel Rivera is an Infectious Disease Specialist at Prism Health North Texas in Dallas, Texas. She graduated from University Of Texas Medical School At San Antonio in 2007.

Submitted June 20, 2020

Let me start by saying that I am an infectious diseases physician in Texas.  I was vacationing in New York City in January and started hearing about the coronavirus outbreak on CNN. I felt uneasy but thought that like the SARS and MERS outbreaks, this virus might behave similarly. A few people asked me about it while I was there, and I tried to reassure them that things would be okay; that hopefully it would pass quickly.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. When I returned to Texas, I looked through my medical journals to see if the coronavirus was hitting the medical press, but nothing. It wasn’t until early March when cases started spreading rapidly in New York that COVID-19 became an inextricable part of our every day lives.

“I watch the number of new cases in Texas rise, and I’m so frustrated to see people not following CDC recommendations.”

I work in an HIV clinic and we immediately cancelled all of our lab and follow up appointments, came up with a policy on PPE, and created a space for testing. The outpatient experience has been very different from those working in hospitals, but I dare to say that it has been just as stressful. We have been fielding multiple calls about symptoms. I have tested more patients than I can count and have had to teach staff how to protect themselves and others. Thankfully, people living with HIV seem to have a mild course of illness but those with comorbidities (diabetes, hypertension) have been hit the hardest.

As I write this, one of my patients is critically ill. He is on a ventilator and on ECMO. He has received remdesevir and an experimental medication called leronlimab. Every day, I hope that he survives. I watch the number of new cases in Texas rise, and I’m so frustrated to see people not following CDC recommendations.

I have family members who have tested positive but luckily, are stable. This pandemic has hit me from every corner, and I hope that I can stay healthy so that I can continue to care for my patients and see this through to the end.

My Vassar experience prepared for coping with the pandemic by giving me a sense peace and an appreciation for the beauty of life. My favorite work study job was working at the greenhouse. We tended all of the gardens on campus and it was there that I gained an appreciation for the small, simple joys of life. When I get stressed, I work outside in my yard and I tend all of my plants. I feel very fortunate to be alive even through this stressful time.

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