Winsor Families of Medical Personnel Share Their Experiences

By Alex G. ’21

Due in part to its close proximity to the Longwood Medical Area hospitals, Winsor has a uniquely large number of parents who are doctors. Winsor parent physicians connections have benefitted the school in many ways, whether it be through speaking or judging during Global Forum, leading events for all Winsor parents about different health-related topics, or even providing Winsor students with the opportunity to intern in their practice or lab through the Winsor Science Internship. However, the large number of parents in the medical field at Winsor has made Winsor families hugely affected by the COVID-19 outbreak on the front lines. While some Winsor parent physicians have been able to work from home, many must still go into hospitals to care for their patients, and a few others have even been relocated to COVID units to meet the growing need for specialized COVID units. Living and working through the coronavirus outbreak has been incredibly challenging for all Winsor families; in particular, the families of doctors either at risk for exposure to coronavirus at their hospital or working directly with COVID patients have had to seriously consider the possibility of coronavirus entering their household and take precautions against that risk.  

While at work, medical personnel take many preventative measures to protect themselves and limit the transmission of the disease, including using personal protective equipment (PPE). However, PPE shortages have plagued many hospitals across the country, and Anne Joseph ’21 said that “PPE is [still] something nurses have been vouching for a lot and that’s a topic that’s frequently brought up in department chief meetings” according to her mom, Dr. Lija Joseph,

who’s still working full time as the chief of pathology at Lowell General Hospital.  Even with PPE, front line doctors and nurses are still at high risk for contracting the virus. Franchesca Vilmenay ‘22, whose mother, Alexandra Vilmenay, works in a non-respiratory clinic and, thus, doesn’t receive known coronavirus patients, said, “there is always the lingering possibility of [her] contracting the virus from an asymptomatic patient or someone who has COVID but doesn’t know… [even though she] has to wear the same amount of PPE as someone who is working in a COVID unit.”

For many families of working medical personnel, the daily routine has changed to better ensure that the parent on the front lines is not transmitting the virus to the rest of their family. Franchesca said, “we are very careful and make sure to deeply sanitize everything that is brought into the home, and we’ve become vigilant about how we interact with others outside of our home.” Anne Joseph ‘21 conveyed the confusion around the safety of her mother’s work, relaying that, though her mother “showers immediately after coming home” each day, “there’s a lot of uncertainty about how the virus spreads, so at times it can be scary to think about what my mom brings home each night.” One anonymous Winsor student whose father is working directly in a COVID unit, stated, “We’ve had conversations about what to do if one of us gets sick – would we have my dad quarantine in the basement? What if both my parents got sick? Because of their age, they’re at risk for death.”   

This constant awareness of the risks of coronavirus can take a toll on the morale of families of front line personnel, but can also unite them through this shared experience. The anonymous student stated, “at times, the morale of my household has been low because of this new, twisted, and scary reality.” For many families it is fear about all of the unknowns that is most consuming. Anne said, “There have been moments where the anxiety of not knowing if a COVID carrier walked by my mom in the hallway or a patient coughed on a railing she touched [is] overwhelming.”  However, this strain has made many families even closer as they appreciate their time together more and work as a collective unit to keep the whole household safe. To this end, many families have started playing more games together or sharing household responsibilities. Anne, like many children of people on the front lines, expressed a lot of pride in her parent’s work saying, “I honestly just feel really proud that they’re involved in this battle against the virus and I’m so thankful for what they’re doing.”

Ultimately, though Dr. Joseph reports seeing signs of a return to normalcy in her pathology department and the rates of infection are decreasing in Massachusetts, there is still a long way to go in the fight against COVID-19. Winsor students with parents in the medical field especially urge everyone to follow social distancing and quarantining guidelines. The anonymous Winsor student, whose family has to be constantly vigilant about their interactions with others and even each other, had a message to all Winsor students: “My hope is that, to everyone reading this, you’re healthy and safe… and staying inside (if possible, depending on your family situation). I know it might seem like hanging out with your friends is a good idea but please consider the severity of this pandemic and the toll it has taken on the world.”