Healthcare Heroes

Not all heroes wear capes; many of them wear scrubs. With the current global climate, healthcare workers across the world are putting in extra hours treating, educating, and caring for all of us. In light of these unique times, we wanted to take the opportunity to acknowledge and thank each of them and offer a glimpse into the lives of a few of these brave women and men.

05-15-2020

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Mary Claire Walker

Mary Claire Walker

Clifton Park, NY

Mary Claire Walker is a paramedic in Clifton Park, New York where she works two full-time jobs averaging 72 hours a week. She is also an avid ultrarunner who loves running trails and competing when she can. We caught up with her recently to see how her life has changed in the current global environment.

“I feel like I'm going to war every time I go to work right now. We are fighting an invisible enemy.”

A first responder’s job is always tough mentally, physically, and emotionally, but there are some key differences these days that make it even more intense. Although she is equipped with all necessary PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), she is constantly worried about her own health and has been told that it isn’t a matter of if she gets the virus, but when. While she appreciates the PPE they are given, it is not only uncomfortable and hot, it makes her feel like she is suiting up to go to war or perhaps just stepped off the moon. This makes her feel alienated from her patients.

Being an ultrarunner helps Walker at work and vice versa. She said first and foremost, as an ultrarunner, she is “comfortable with being uncomfortable” so putting on a clumsy moon suit and fighting for peoples’ lives for long hours is a little bit easier because she knows how to deal with long periods of discomfort. On the flip side, seeing people suffer against their will actually makes choosing to suffer easier for her.

“Choosing to suffer is so important. In that 50k, I chose to suffer instead of being forced to. I see people die of this virus every day and the best way I have found to make sense of that is by being with myself on the trail. My job is so selfless and sometimes I feel so helpless, but it makes me more grateful for the ability to run and be healthy. I have a new perspective on life and live each day like it’s my last.”
- Walker on recently running a virtual 50k race between shifts

Walker is a HUGE fan of Altra Footwear and not only runs in them religiously, but she wears the Altra Tushar Boot for work and said it has made a huge difference. “The Tushar is comfortable and lightweight. I realized that just running in healthy footwear wasn’t enough, considering I work 72 hours per week, so having something I can wear at work that is also good for my feet is a gamechanger.”

Tushar Boot against a rock and water background
Holly Kleinfall

Holly Kleinfall

Auburn, CA

Holly Kleinfall is a nurse and has worked at a clinic near Auburn, California for almost two years. When she’s not working, you can find her running out on the incredible trails she’s lucky enough to live by and enjoying the outdoors. Running is her way to destress and disconnect. She recently gave us some insight into what life is looking like these days.

Kleinfall works at a clinic in the small community of Grass Valley, which thankfully means people paid attention to early guidelines and warnings about COVID-19. “Because the community heeded guidelines early on, Grass Valley has not been hit as hard as many other parts of the country or world,” said Kleinfall. She is thankful that the community is generally healthy, but other things have changed that impact her job and daily life. Many people might not realize it, but education is a huge part of your job as a nurse—and you don’t learn that in nursing school.

“More than half of your job as a nurse is educating patients and by the end of the day, I’m just mentally exhausted from talking so much and to so many people.”

Luckily, at least in Kleinfall’s case, the president of the hospital her clinic is associated with has done a great job ensuring that everyone is equipped with knowledge to educate patients, so she at least feels prepared.

While her area may not be the hardest hit, this time still weighs on Kleinfall as much as any other healthcare worker right now and running is where she can let it all go.

Having the ability to get to a trail (she lives on the Western States trail!) is a lifesaver.

“Thank God for running,” she said. “It’s my way of clearing everything from my mind and my body, and I'm not listening to music, I just listen to the leaves beneath my feet, the crunch of the pine needles and the birds singing. It is so therapeutic.”

Kleinfall credits her incredible team of nurses who feel more like sisters than coworkers. Having an awesome, supportive team is key right now.

Keenan Waeschle

Keenan Waeschle

Denver, CO

Keenan Waeschle is an RN working with COVID-19 patients in Denver, Colorado. When he’s not working, you’ll find him outside running, backcountry skiing or rock climbing. Waeschle graduated from nursing school and dove right into working on the frontlines of the current global pandemic. In a recent interview, we learned a little bit about how it’s been for him.

Waeschle’s recent graduation was actually perfect timing for him to dive right in and help COVID-19 patients and he feels fortunate to have a job right now. He graduated right before the pandemic hit and places were still hiring healthcare workers. If he had been looking now, he might be jobless. When the pandemic first hit, he was a bit apprehensive—PPE was standardized and there were just so many unknowns, luckily, these days, things are better.

We asked how it was to be thrown into this as a new nurse and he said it was actually easier than it might seem. Every patient he is taking care of has similar symptoms, so to him, the trickiest thing will be transitioning to a more normal setting and seeing other ailments.

Even through all the long hours and stressful phone calls with family, there are some big positives Waeschle has been able to take away. He feels like what he is doing is truly making a difference, which is rewarding. His floor doesn’t allow visitors, so his job often consists of relating to his patients, distracting them or speaking some calming words to their families. He also noted that having a great team of nurses who support each other through these times is key. You have to be realistic but also be able to laugh at yourself and have fun, and can’t take yourself too seriously, and that is what his team helps him do.

Waeschle loves to run, climb, bike, and adventure. He especially loves planning big trips, but the current circumstances have changed those habits a bit, since he spends most of his time in a hospital, exposed to people sick with the virus.

“I feel a sense of social responsibility and am not planning trips that I might otherwise want to do. Instead, I try to get outside, close to home each day, and just enjoy the here and now. It is so good for me mentally and physically.”

Getting outside and moving your body is so important in stressful times and Waeschle said he’s even had some coworkers take up hiking because it is something they can do alone and a way to get outside and away from it all. Hopefully, if nothing else, this pandemic will help everyone appreciate the importance of taking time for oneself and letting it all go.

Allie Sciallis

Allie Sciallis

Denver, CO

Allie Sciallis is a nurse practitioner. Up until her recent move to Denver, Colorado, she worked at the Boston coalition for the homeless, where she split her time between primary care and respite care for those experiencing homelessness. We caught up with Sciallis to catch a glimpse into her life these days.

In a recent interview with Sciallis, she said, “the virus changed everything.” Back in late March, much of her work became telemedicine where she would work with patients over the phone. She was thankful that her company stepped up and put this in place. In addition to that, everyone stepped up, pitched in and took it day by day to create an environment to offer the adjusted care that was needed. For example, they had to set up tents and temporary partitions in order to isolate/quarantine those who needed it. Working long, unpredictable and adjusted hours in heavy PPE was taxing and uncomfortable, but Sciallis felt prepared from her days working at a hospital during school. Knowing of the PPE shortage across the world, she was conscious of her own use and tried to stretch it whenever possible and safe in hopes of having a little more to go around.

“I try to do two things consistently to help me stay sane: physical activity and eating healthy.”

I am a runner, but I found that during these crazy times, even just going for a 30-minute walk was incredibly helpful. With eating healthy, the biggest thing that helps me is cooking. It feels normal and I think we could all use a sense of normalcy right now. Sciallis said it is also helping her realize what is truly important to us and what we take for granted, like getting a haircut or grabbing a drink with friends. But beyond that, she pointed out that it really makes you realize how lucky those of us who still have jobs and how tough it must be for small businesses and anyone who has lost their job.

“In a broad sense, this whole experience highlights how severe the health, income and wealth disparities are in our country and I hope we can learn something from that and make changes even when this is all over.”

Right now, stories about people helping each other, and of the greater community coming together are giving her hope. We are meant to work together.

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