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Local doctors recall the stress and lifestyle changes during the pandemic

queen's hospital emergency room covid Virus Outbreak Hawaii Surge
Patrick T. Fallon
AFP via Getty Images
FILE - A hospital staff member attends to a patient in a COVID-19 intensive care unit on Jan. 6, 2021, at a hospital in Los Angeles.

Three years since the pandemic began, sometimes we can forget the amount of uncertainty and fear in those early days of COVID.

As part of our continuing project with the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa's Center for Oral History, we are focusing on the experience of health care workers.

UH ethnic studies professor Ethan Caldwell introduces three medical professionals working in the areas of infectious disease, eye care, and mental health.

For the past three decades, Dr. Scott Hoskinson has served as an infectious disease specialist on Maui.

During the pandemic, he wrote and maintained the Maui Memorial Hospital’s COVID-19 recommendations, continually adapting the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — which constantly shifted as new understandings of the virus emerged.

He had to contend with shortages in staff and equipment along with the dangers that frontline workers experienced daily.

HOSKINSON (Nov. 9, 2021): It was and it still is an extremely stressful time for health care workers. The people admitted to the hospital, both those suspected of having the coronavirus infection and those that actually have the coronavirus infection required very intensive hands-on care by the staff to go into these rooms, you literally had to gown up, you had to glove up. You had to put the appropriate mask on. You had to have somebody watch you when you came out of the room to make sure that you properly took off all of that equipment in the proper order so that you didn't contaminate yourself taking off the equipment if the patient had sprayed you with droplets or whatever else. So you can imagine nurses and others trying to care for these patients. They'd watched patients die before them with this coronavirus. They were terrified for themselves, and they were especially terrified for their family members since they thought that they would potentially bring this virus home to their spouses and their kids and their mother and their dad, and on and on like that. Then we had staffing shortages, as did everybody with this type of intensive care. And so a lot of people ended up working overtime and they read all kinds of things online that just, you know, scared them more and more.

As state director of vision programs for Project Vision Hawaiʻi, opthalmologist Dr. Dianne Bowen-Coleman pivoted her team to respond to immediate needs in the community as the pandemic set in.

Early on, they provided meals to homeless children and youth, and then shifted PVH’s efforts toward testing and vaccination.

BOWEN-COLEMAN (AUG. 20, 2021): One school actually reached out to me in late November. A vice principal reached out to me and wanted the school to be vision screened. So in early December, we went to this elementary school and we were in complete PPE, just like we were going to be doing COVID testing. It was our first school in nine months, which is an extremely long time to go without being in a school and doing vision services. But we were there in full PPE. The school felt confident. I think that the students felt confident. I feel like the teachers felt confident in us being there and doing what we were doing. I also noticed with subsequent schools we started 2021, that these kids are already learning. These kids are learning that they can't be too close to the one in front of them, that when they get to the cafeteria they have to sit where the X is, and they can't sit anywhere else, and they know what door to go in and what door to go out of. I applaud the students and of course the teachers for teaching them. The students make it easier on everybody else by following the instructions of their teachers in the schools. They're just automatically keeping their distance and not touching things.

Clinical psychologist Dr. David Lam earned his Ph.D. at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa in 1975 and returned to Hawaiʻi in 1994, where he practiced until his retirement.

Lam published several editorials on mental health during the pandemic. He focused on the opportunities for building resilience that attended COVID-19’s tragic spread.

LAM (June 26, 2020): So that's part of the silver lining in terms of spending time at home. That can be very stressful, but that can also provide some opportunities to do things that one has set aside and not done for a while. And COVID certainly has caused me, and I think a lot of people, to reorder our priorities or at least think about what our priorities are. What is really important and what is not, because prior to COVID, again, we were living such busy lives that we didn't really have much chance to stop and not only smell the roses, but stop and think about whether our daily schedule, our daily routine, our habits, are necessary or productive. And being forced to stop and reflect can sometimes help us to see things that we otherwise might not. And the other thing, in terms of building coping skills — is building resilience. And resilience is really having a storehouse or a repertoire of coping skills. The more coping skills we have, the more resilient we can become. Resilient to most people means being able to bounce back no matter how many times you fall down.


This oral history project is supported by the SHARP initiative of the National Endowment for the Humanities through the American Council of Learned Societies.

This interview aired on The Conversation on March 23, 2023. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1. 

Catherine Cruz is the host of The Conversation. Originally from Guam, she spent more than 30 years at KITV, covering beats from government to education. Contact her at ccruz@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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