Latin Parents Combat COVID-19


Charlotte O'Toole

Ms. O’Toole gets ready to face COVID-19 at Saint Joseph Hospital.

By Marianne Mihas, Latin School of Chicago

Many of the hard-working parents in Latin’s community are doctors who are currently being called upon to treat patients who have contracted COVID-19. Not only do these parents risk their own health and safety by exposing themselves to the coronavirus, but they also run the risk of transferring the virus to their families, putting many Latin students at high risk of contracting the disease.

Charlotte O’Toole’s mother is a pulmonologist (lung and respiratory tract specialist), and she has been working on the front lines to fight COVID-19 from the start of the pandemic. Although Charlotte admits the situation is a bit scary, she is able to think pragmatically about it.

“When my mom gets home from work, she showers immediately. She is very protected in a big suit and mask at work, and doesn’t touch any of the patients. So I think it’s best just to stay calm and trust that she’s protected,” says Charlotte.

Similar to Charlotte, Maya Passman trusts that her mom is protected while working.

“The COVID wards are actually pretty safe. Patients are behind glass windows, and every person that enters is fully covered,” describes Maya, whose mother is a nephrologist (kidney specialist), and has also been asked by her hospital to step up and help coronavirus patients. COVID-19 does not just affect patients’ lungs; in advanced stages, it can cause mass organ failure.

Both Charlotte’s and Maya’s mothers take extra precautions before coming in contact with her family.

“My mom has to enter the house through our basement and take off all her clothes and shower before she does anything. We have had to quarantine her when she didn’t feel well—it all ended up being fine, she just had a cold,” says Maya.

Charlotte’s mother also showers immediately when she returns home from work. Even though her mother is working with coronavirus patients every day, Charlotte doesn’t feel her family is doing anything crazy out of the norm.

“We don’t do too much differently than anyone else, but we always make sure to wear masks out and gloves at the grocery store. We wash our hands constantly and don’t share much between the four of us,” says Charlotte.

Hospitals are expecting to be so overwhelmed in the next few weeks that doctors with specialties unrelated to the complications of COVID-19 are being called upon to treat patients.

“I can tell it is a very stressful time for my mom. Even though she is not in the COVID unit right now, a lot of her work friends are and she eventually will have to,” noted Shahab Kousheshi, a junior at Latin whose mother is a neurologist being asked to come in and help treat coronavirus patients, something way out of her typical wheelhouse.

He continued, saying, “As time goes on the PPE and other supplies start to run out so we’re all nervous about her being exposed.”

Although the situation in Illinois will soon improve according to certain data and models, many doctors are being asked to work much longer hours than usual.

“My mom has definitely been more stressed. Both my parents are working really hard,” says Maya, whose father is also a doctor. As a heart surgeon, he was also asked to help intubate coronavirus patients, but her family decided that it was best if both parents were not at direct risk of exposure.

Both Charlotte and Shahab say their mothers are being put under more stress than usual as well.

“I can’t imagine how scary it must be to walk into work every day and deal with 30+ patients with coronavirus and really see the severity of this virus,” says Charlotte.

Through all this, Latin students have developed a deep appreciation for the work their parents do.

“If she wanted to, she could quit her job and walk out right now. But she’s choosing to stay to help these people, and I’m really proud of that,” says Charlotte. “I think it’s really rewarding for her to know that she’s saving lives every day.”

Beyond just students and kids, whole communities have rallied to show their appreciation for medical workers. Maya says that “people have been sending us gifts showing their appreciation for my parents and it makes me happy to see them getting the recognition they deserve. I couldn’t be prouder of their bravery and selflessness and to be their daughter.”

More than anything, kids of doctors just want their parents to be safe. Maya urges her peers to consider medical personnel when making choices about to what extent they will adhere to social distancing rules.

“Please stay inside so my parents can go back to normal life. Please don’t see other people. It is frustrating for me to see people’s social media of them still being with their friends because my parents and my whole family’s life is on the line, as well as everyone else’s. Please, please stay inside.”

This story was originally published on The Forum on April 18, 2020.