UVA Health doctors describe lessons learned, future hopes after more than a year of pandemic life

Updated: Jun. 4, 2021 at 10:52 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Reflecting on what our community has learned in the nearly 15 months since the first COVID-19 case was found in Charlottesville led us to conversations with two University of Virginia Health doctors, Taison Bell and Kathy Bonham.

In conversations, when discussing 2020, the words that kept coming up were: “uncertainty,” “fear,” and “anxiety.” They say the job still has its challenges, but they’ve learned a lot. Now, they have some hope.

“We were dealing with patients, numbering like two and three times the amount that we were used to seeing,” Bonham, a pulmonologist, said. “But at the same time, there was an emptiness because frequently patients’ families really weren’t able to come in.”

Bonham described that as the reality throughout the peaks of that pandemic. After-work hours weren’t much easier.

“You come home and we all had our routines, but they usually involve this going straight to the shower not interacting with our families,” Bell said. He’s the Medical Intensive Care Unit director.

Both doctors say those moments were extra tough because they really didn’t know how to treat COVID. But over a year later, there’s some optimism after the darkest year for American public health.

“We recognize it’s not a sprint. It’s kind of a marathon,” Bonham said. “I think the team mentality of coming together as healthcare providers in the ICU though is something that’s really helped us kind of weather the storm.”

That teamwork that Bonham talked about is what is motivating Bell.

“I think patient care benefits when we have cross-collaboration and teamwork,” he said. “We have to find a way to continue that relationship and find ways to work even more closely together for the benefit of our patients.”

The work is not done yet. We asked Bell what the ICU he leads is like now. He says there are still some COVID patients, and that the hospital and its workers take responsibility for that now that the science says vaccines are effective at keeping people out.

“If there’s a service or something that our patients need regardless of how they feel about or not, it is our job to convince them to try to decrease the structure or the barriers that are around them to access the help that they need,” Bell said.

Bell says his source of optimism comes from knowing the vaccines can be a source to turn the tide on the pandemic. Bonham says she’s hopeful that the mental health of both doctors and patients will be an even greater priority moving forward.

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