christina garza
Category: Fall 2020, Georgetown Magazine

Title:Personal Reflections: Christina Garza

Author: Interview by Chelsea Burwell (G’16)
Date Published: November 18, 2020

The sheer volume of patients with COVID-19 forced our hospital to quickly discharge everyone who wasn’t critically ill. Regular medical floors were converted to ICUs, new ventilation systems were used once standard vents were running out, and specialists in other departments were redeployed as medical and critical care doctors. Some of our psychiatry residents had to switch gears and go back to the ICU.

There was a cluster of five or six of us in my division of 13 people who were sick. We did not meet the requirements to receive a test because the limited quantities were reserved for the critically ill. As a precautionary measure, the hospital mandated that we work from home in March and April, and that was really tough on our patients.

Traditionally, psychiatry had not used telehealth, but we had to figure out quickly how to see patients remotely in a way that was confidential, safe, and accurate. We were able to see patients remotely via iPads and smartphones, but with the influx of patients, we did not have enough technology to carry out patient care.

“What’s just as important is remembering that as a community, we can remain physically distant, but still be socially present for one another.”

Christina Garza

In order to get the technology we needed, I turned to the Alumni Association Facebook page. I just plainly laid it out in a post. I asked, “If you have an old iPad or an old tablet that you aren’t using, please send it to me.” Classmates were so generous, and I’m forever grateful to them. Even those who couldn’t send tablets wrote encouraging messages.

I’ve been back in the hospital since mid-April and have been donning scrubs, a N95 face mask, gown, face shield, gloves—the whole get-up—and going into patients’ rooms.

So much of what I do is to provide people with a sense of care and humanity. A lot of times, it’s the smallest things that can help people feel better and more normal and empowered. The telehealth aspect has allowed us to talk with patients who miss having one-on-one interactions. It’s really hard for our patients when no visitors are allowed. There are patients who are dying and don’t have the chance to say goodbye to their families.

Many of us are in a privileged position to ask ourselves, “How can I take care of myself in this time of isolation?” For thousands of others on the frontlines and those in vulnerable work conditions, it’s a lot easier said than done. We know what preventive measures can turn things around when the second wave hits. What’s just as important is remembering that as a community, we can remain physically distant, but still be socially present for one another.

Christina Garza, M.D. (C’01, M’08) is an assistant professor of psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center.

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