By Kristina Cooke and Lucy Nicholson
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – After putting a coronavirus patient in a ventilator to help him breathe, Dr. Zafia Anklesaria noted to herself that the baby never kicked during an emergency procedure.
It wasn’t until he returned to his office and had removed most of his protective equipment that he made his presence known.
Anklesaria is seven months pregnant with her first child. 35 years working as co-director of the intensive care unit at CommonSpirit’s Dignity Health California Medical Center, a hospital in downtown Los Angeles that mostly serves low-income residents of Hispanic and African-American descent.
The hospital’s 22-bed COVID-19 intensive care unit has been or is nearing its capacity since the end of March. Some nurses withdraw 24 hour shifts because of the high volume of patients in critical condition, he said.
“The socio-economic class we serve, people tend to live at close range, they don’t really have the privilege of maintaining good social distance, and they tend to become more infected as a result,” Anklesaria said.
People who live in areas with the highest poverty rates in Los Angeles die from COVID-19 more than double the number of those in the richest areas, according to data from the district’s public health department.
Anklesaria’s 12 hour shift starts at 7 in the morning. He works an average of four days a week in the ICU and one to two days do lung consultations with patients.
After receiving an update from the night shift, he began his activities, wearing and removing his personal protective equipment as he entered and exited the patient’s room. The nurse checks him regularly, making sure he is hydrated, well protected, and rests to eat.
“I don’t think I can do this job pregnant without their help,” Anklesaria said. She is fortunate to have an easy pregnancy and her baby has “behaved very well.”
“You allow your mother to do her job very well,” he said to his stomach.
He is worried that the baby will hear the pressure and frustration in his voice as he goes through his days.
“So I tried and convinced him when I had time for myself, I looked down and said it was all good, we already got this,” he said.
However, there are physical limitations: he slowly finds it more difficult to remain standing for a long time and often returns home with back pain.
HUSBANDS ARE WORRY
One morning in May he got good news – one of the first COVID-19 patients in the hospital, an employee who had spent nearly four weeks using a ventilator, was ready to remove the tracheostomy tube.
“Yay, you did it, you were officially released!” he told Vicente Arredondo, 65, when he removed the canister.
When she returned home, exhausted, her husband Aryan Jafari, 30, held the dog while he ran to the bathroom. He initially raised the possibility of isolating himself from him, but he would not listen.
She is worried about her and her baby, but “she fortunately understands I want and need to work,” he said. “This is the work we follow. If we don’t do it, who will?”
Jafari is an engineer and is most confident in the data, so he has sent him research that shows pregnant women and babies are not at higher risk of coronavirus. He had promised his family that if there was conflicting evidence to emerge, he would stay away from the ICU.
Anklesaria, who comes from a family of doctors in India, has been in the United States since college. His parents still live in Kolkata and he worries they won’t be able to come to give birth.
Because of the virus, she had to go to her own prenatal visit, even though her husband had joined the ultrasound appointment through FaceTime.
He gave a written question to his obstetrician to answer: can he do this, can he do that?
“The answer is always: ‘yes’.”
For photo essays see https://reut.rs/2LT5afr
(Reporting by Kristina Cooke and Lucy Nicholson, editing by Ross Colvin and Diane Craft)
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