What It’s Like to Have an Emergency Operation During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Zion Hodgkin Assistant Editor

    With the entire state and most of the world on full lockdown, most people know the fear of being forced to leave their house for any reason. Even a quick trip to the grocery store or the gas station can be anxiety-inducing and sometimes cause full week of stress, overanalyzing symptoms, and self-diagnosing, especially for those with an autoimmune disease like I have, having been diagnosed with diabetes type 1 in my early twenties. Despite this, last week I had to go into a clinic every week day, and have someone stick their hands directly into my mouth.

    I had made an appointment over two months ago to get a tooth pulled. It was a lower molar, the furthest one back, and it had been causing me pain incrementally for about three months. We looked into having it filled, but the dentist said that it was too far gone, it would be safer at this point to just get it removed. They took an x-ray, and had me make an appointment with the Oral and Facial Surgery Clinic in Farmington. There was a pretty extensive waiting list and appointment was made for March 31st. As that date crept closer, the COVID-19 pandemic started to get worse, spreading rapidly across the world and closing businesses and schools across the country. A week before my scheduled visit, I still hadn’t heard anything from the clinic, so I decided to give them a call. I was met with an answering machine, freshly recorded, stating that the office was closed until further notice due to the pandemic. By this time, the pain in my mouth had become pretty terrible, and the thought of waiting weeks, or potentially months longer before I could do anything about it, sent me into a panic. 

    I called around to other dental clinics in the area, to see if there was anyone who could help me, and discovered that the Strong Area Dental Center, though not open to the general public, was still available to take people who needed emergency procedures. Luckily I fell into that category. I called on Thursday, April 2nd, and they were able to get me in later that same day. They took a look, noticed that there was some infection, pulled my tooth, and sent me home with a recommendation to take ibuprofen over the next week. The rest of that day and the day after went great. The pain had already lessened and I was incredibly grateful that I wouldn’t have to deal with the infection any longer.

    Then the weekend started. I woke up in the most pain I’ve ever experienced in my entire life. It was worse than the time I had jumped face first into the water at Mill Pond Park and broke my nose, worse than the time I had three wisdom teeth shatter when I was getting them removed. There was immense pain at the extraction site, but on top of that, I could feel a throbbing in my entire face. My top row of teeth also were really painful, swollen, and incredibly sensitive to the touch. 

    I immediately called the dental clinic to see if I could speak to an on-call worker, but nobody answered, and the answering machine relayed the fact that they were closed for the weekend. The next two days were absolute misery. Turns out the extraction site had turned into a dry socket, which happens when the blood clot that builds up to allow for healing becomes dislodged.

    On top of that, the oral trauma from the extraction had caused a horrific sinus infection, causing my sinus sacs to swell up, applying pressure to the top of my teeth and gums. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t even watch TV because I was in so much pain. All I could do for 48 hours was stare at a wall in painful delirium, cry, and then stare at the wall again. I was begging the clock to tick faster, begging for sleep to pass some time, begging the sun to rise on Monday morning so I could call the dentist again.

    On Monday morning, I called Strong Area Dental Center as soon as they opened and they allowed me to come in immediately so they could take a look. I pulled on some rubber gloves and headed out, barely able to see the road through the blinding pain. Once I got there and got in the chair, the dentist checked and saw that I did, in fact, have a dry socket. Unfortunately, it wasn’t going to be an easy fix. They were going to have to apply a numbing medicinal salve to the area for the next five days. 

    As the world became continuously more terrifying, and stopping to get gas spelled out a potential death sentence for my weakened immune system, I had to drive two towns over each day that week, to sit in a waiting room with other potentially ill people, and have a dentist stick his hands in my mouth every single day. Throughout this, I did my best to avoid contact with anyone besides my dentist (though I was afraid of him as well to a certain extent), but traveling and being in a clinic made that damn near impossible.

    Now, a week after my last dentist appointment, my mouth is healing up nicely. My sinus infection on the other hand, has persisted, fluctuating from incredibly painful to relatively mild. All I’ve wanted to do is to finally stay at home, cut out the rest of the world and protect my weakened body.  Instead, I’ve had to consider calling up the doctors to start the whole process over again.

Maine Medical Center Staff Going the Extra Mile During Global Pandemic

Samantha Creech, Contributing Writer

    Maine Medical Center (MMC), the top-rated hospital in Maine located in Portland, is at the epicenter of the most coronavirus cases in the state and determined to give the best care to their patients during this crisis. MMC has thousands of staff members working around the clock for their COVID-19 patients. 

    Dr. August Valenti, epidemiologist and director of the Special Infectious Diseases Program at MMC, has been working tirelessly to prevent the spread of healthcare-associated infections and the spread of infectious diseases at the hospital. Valenti also works with public health agencies statewide and nationally to help identify and manage communicable diseases. 

    Valenti and his team at MMC are trained to care and manage patients with pathogens such as Ebola and COVID-19. “I am working with clinical and administrative leaders at [MMC] and its parent organization, MaineHealth, to develop policies and procedures related to protecting people who work and enter our hospitals from getting COVID-19,” said Valenti.

    Valenti has concerns during this ever-growing pandemic and even after things seem to return to normal. “My biggest worries are for victims of the disease and the healthcare workers who are on the frontlines of this epidemic. I want to keep them and their families safe,” he said. “I am also concerned that the virus will be with us for a long time until we have a vaccine or proven therapies and that even as things begin to return to normal, sporadic cases will cause additional outbreaks.”

    Valenti strongly believes in the importance of social distancing and other precautions needed in order to decrease coronavirus numbers. “There is no doubt that social distancing has mitigated community spread of the virus here in Maine,” he said. 

    Kristin Clark, a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA), has had to change her role at MMC due to the suspension of all elective surgeries and procedures. Normally, Clark administers anesthesia for surgeries and other procedures, but due to surgery and procedures suspension, there’s not enough anesthesia work for the CRNA staff. “The [ICU has] more work than they can handle,” Clark said. “Our entire staff has been cross-trained to the ICU to help in the care of those patients, both COVID and otherwise.” 

    Marie Hodge, occupational therapist team leader, has continued her role in supervising her team and seeing patients. Since the overall volume of patients has decreased, she has also been focusing on the logistical work of COVID-19, which includes scheduling ICU training, giving medical staff personal protective equipment (PPE), and problem-solving issues involving workflow to COVID-19. “Usually we have ample time to prepare staff and plan for major changes, but changes occur here on a daily basis and we need to respond quickly,” said Hodge.

    Some of Hodge’s major concerns center around the wellbeing of her team and the other staff at MMC. “[Our staff] are stressed with the sheer [number] of changes to keep up on, the fear of contracting COVID-19 and they have personal stresses as well,” she said.

    Jennifer Cote, an occupational therapist at MMC, still works a lot with her patients despite the risks. Her role is to assure when a patient is discharged from MMC, that they can complete daily tasks on their own, and ensure they are cognitively intact. She primarily works in the ICU. 

    On a normal day, Cote spends a lot of her time with the patient’s and their families to go over after hospital care and guidance. Now, MMC does not allow any visitors so Cote and her colleagues have found difficulty in family teaching. They were given iPads to communicate with families, but it is not the same as in-person discussions. 

    Every day after work, Cote says she immediately showers and changes her clothes so she can remain healthy for her work. “My biggest worry is that I could bring this disease home to my family as a result of working here,” says Cote. “I can say that MMC is well-prepared and has all the appropriate PPE for staff. That gives me comfort.”

Professors Adapting to Emergency Remote Teaching

Andrea Swiedom Staff Reporter

    UMF professors adapting coursework to online platforms last minute has posed some unique challenges, but has also resulted in some positive surprises. Depending on the discipline, the transition has been as simple as utilizing Blackboard more than they did before, changing in-person lectures to Zoom classes, and recording lectures. Disciplines such as natural sciences have posed more difficult problems and require more creative solutions.

    Professor Mariella Passarelli’s organic chemistry students luckily completed their basic lab requirements in the fall, but are unable to conduct the lab portion of their capstone projects. “Students have to plan and come up with the procedure to make a target compound – like an antiviral agent – and then try it out in the lab,” Passarelli said via email. “Students will still plan their synthesis, but they won’t get to try out their plan in the lab. They will still write about it.”

    While Passarelli has managed to adapt the content, she iterated that there is no replacement for an in-person lab. “It does not matter how good the virtual lab is, it is not the same,” Passarelli said. “It is like virtually cooking instead of actually cooking, or watching a travel show as opposed to going abroad or playing a sport virtually; just not the same.”

    Students in Professor Stephen Grandchamp’s English courses–Modern Love Sonnets in the Digital Age and Hip Hop History and Culture–are well-accustomed to digital programs as modern technological mediums are a staple of Grandchamp’s teaching. 

    Most recently in Grandchamp’s hip hop course, students watched the movie 8 Mile collectively and then discussed the movie together on Zoom. “That project works really well moving into digital modality. It’s been a pretty easy transition,” he said over a video chat in his Farmington home.

    As manager of the Digital Humanities lab, Grandchamp has received several questions by other professors as to how to adapt course content to new platforms. “I would say my first rule is to make sure that you are comfortable with what you are doing. Don’t feel like you have to go into a digital program just because we are online this semester,” he said.

    English Professor Dan Gunn has stuck to Zoom for the majority of his courses’ content and has found the breakout room feature the most useful for maintaining the discussion-based nature of his classes. This feature automatically generates groups of students into private discussions where Gunn can visit to listen in and help guide discussions. 

    Nonetheless, there are just certain aspects that he feels are lost in online platforms. “To me, it’s not the same because there’s something that you get from having the energy in the same room. It feels flat to me,” he said over video chat, sitting in front of a towering bookshelf in his Wilton home. “I like to read aloud. I don’t like reading to a screen, to people in little boxes. It feels unnatural to me.”

   Yet, Gunn has been pleasantly surprised to see students maintaining high spirits and even making light of the current upheaval. When he enters the Zoom classroom for his Shakespeare course, he often finds his students playing Shakespearean version of hangman.  

    “I feel like people are getting a little more used to this so it’s not as intimidating as it once was. That’s true for me too, obviously,” Gunn said. “I’m really impressed with the way the students have been willing to adapt to that. I’ve had really good attendance in the last week or so.”

    Passarelli expressed a similar nostalgia for in-person teaching since adapting her Forensic Science course to what she described as “guided inquiry” in which students go through videos, case studies, and PowerPoint presentations on their own. “I had a wonderful group of students this semester. We were having fun in that class, and I miss them,” she said.

   Luckily, some positives have emerged from online learning. Both Grandchamp and Gunn noted that a handful of students seem to engage more online. “Some students seem more comfortable online than they were face-to-face,” Gunn said. “They have been more active and interested in participating electronically.”

    Grandchamp has noticed that more students are reaching out to him during his office hours than they were before quarantine. “I think it feels a little more low-pressure to students than going to their professor’s office. They don’t have to be on video, and if they’re uncomfortable, they can turn their video off or they can just use the Zoom dial-in number. And I have given them my cell phone number just to text during my office hours.”

    Passarelli is hopeful that this emergency transition to online learning will foster new strengths in her students. “I am hoping that the guided-inquiry style will teach my students how to be independent learners,” said Passarelli.

    UMF’s emergency transition to online teaching has also provided students and professors with socialization, a basic need that is severely lacking in everyone’s lives under quarantine. “We’re all isolated, and this is a chance to talk to people so I think people have been really sweet with each other,” Gunn said.


Correction (4/27/20):

Gunn lives in Wilton, ME.

The hangman game was an activity Gunn’s students did before the switch to remote learning due to COVID-19 and Gunn “reconstituted” the activity over Zoom.

Keeping Faith During Quarantine

Andrea Swiedom Staff Reporter 

    As the third week of quarantine approaches, UMF students and faculty have had to adapt numerous aspects of their lives including their faith practices. For many Christians, Easter Sunday was a televised celebration this year as were many of the Catholic Holy Week traditions. Similar alterations to practicing the month-long Muslim tradition of Ramadan starting April 23 will also be made due to quarantine.

    Sophomore Abbie Hunt typically spends Easter Sunday watching the sunrise over Sabattus Pond at Martin’s Point in Sabattus with her family and friends before attending a service at Community Baptist Church in Sabattus.  

    “My family still got up early– around six– to watch the sun rise from our house. Then we had our own breakfast together. Since my dad is the associate pastor and my mom is one of the worship leaders, they went to my church to put on our live stream service,” Hunt said in an email. “My siblings and I watched the church service on Youtube Live from our couch.”

    To maintain a semblance of normality, Hunt and her sisters dressed up for the live streamed service and texted friends from church during the sermon.

    For creative writing professor Patricia O’Donnell, who practices Catholicism, the week leading up to Easter Sunday is filled with numerous opportunities to attend special mass services. “I would usually go to at least one other service that week, like Good Friday; that’s the service that I would often go to. So it was kind of hard to get into the feeling of Easter,” she said over video chat from her Farmington home.

    Instead, O’Donnell live streamed an Easter mass from Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. “I have been there before and it’s beautiful! It’s like I can go visit another church!”  

    She was surprised to see how the service was conducted in the midst of the pandemic. “They had 15 to 20 people conducting the service, and they weren’t doing a lot of social distancing. They gave communion to the attendants. The priest put it in his hands as he usually did and some of the people had him put his fingers right in their mouths!”

    Freshman Yusuf Mohamed who practices Islam, can only anticipate how his upcoming Ramadan practices–a daily sunrise to sundown fast, keeping up with praying five times a day, acts of charity and attending Jummah; a Friday prayer service held at a mosque–will be altered to adhere to the stay-at-home order.

    “Actually, quarantine makes it hard because you usually try to stay productive because if you just lay down, your body gets lazy and you’re not even gonna want to pray,” Mohamed said over video chat.

    Mohamed relies on soccer to keep himself energized during Ramadan even though he is prohibited from food and water during the day. “We usually have a Ramadan soccer tournament. And even though we can’t drink water, I’m used to it. I’ve been fasting since I was 8 years old.” 

    He also anticipated quarantine interfering with a sacrifice that his family makes every year. “At the end of Ramadan, my family usually slaughters a goat for a sacrifice and eats it as a way of saying thank you to Allah. I think that might be difficult because we usually go to a farm in Green and pay the place to kill it.”

    O’Donnell also reminisced about her typical holiday non-quarantine traditions which always includes a big family dinner. “Sometimes my grandchildren would come up and we would have an Easter egg hunt here and they would go to mass with me, the two little girls. They can’t say no, only the adult children can say no,” she said laughing.

    Instead, the granddaughters, O’Donnell’s three children and their partners visited each other for Easter Sunday over a Zoom chat and then O’Donnell had a quiet dinner with her husband.  “Our special dinner was that we ordered a dinner from Harry and David. We ordered two lobster pot pies and it was sort of like eating out, and it cost about as much as eating out!”

    Despite quarantine restricting certain traditions, faith communities have found ways to keep people connected and practicing their religion. Hunt is part of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship (IV), a bible study group that hosts weekly fellowship, worship and games at the UMF campus.

    “Now, we are pretty much doing that same thing, but we’re doing it over Zoom,” Hunt said over a video chat from her family home in Monmouth. “Our leader shares his screen over Zoom and he plays a worship song on Youtube. So that has actually worked pretty well.”

    O’Donnell attends Saint Joseph’s Church in Farmington which is remaining connected with congregants in a variety of ways. “Our priest is good at keeping in touch through the Facebook page. He did a drive up confession. I’m not gonna do it,” she said smiling with her hand over her chest. “He let people drive up to the church hall and they have a confession there and then they drive away.”

    For Mohammed, remaining connected with his faith community during quarantine will mean spending more time with his siblings and his mother, watching Islamic lectures and leaning in even more to the purpose of Ramadan.

    “I believe quarantine will get people closer to Allah because they won’t be distracted. They’ll practice Ramadan more. It’ll make us grateful for what we have for sure,” Mohammed said. “Every year, Ramadan just brings me feelings of being grateful.”