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Fighting on the front lines

Stanford physician Radhika Kumari speaks about the effects that COVID-19 has on her work

April 10, 2020

Stanford gastroenterologist and hepatologist Radhika Kumari decided to pursue a career as a physician after seeing how her aunt, who is also a physician, found satisfaction in helping and developing relationships with patients. Kumari began her career working with a private practitioner for 10 years before moving to the Stanford Gastroenterology and Digestive Health Clinic, where she currently works.

Initially, when it was reported that COVID-19 had begun to spread from China to other countries like Italy, Kumari was worried about going to work. However, she remained on guard and took all of the precautionary measures, and over time, her fear began to subside.

“I was scared to go to work because there are two fronts, professional and personal; I have to come back and be with my family,” Kumari said. “But when I started working more and more, I realized that we have it pretty much [under] good control in California. And the precautionary measures that we have been taking in the hospital started making me feel more secure.”

Because Kumari’s hospital took early precautionary measures against the outbreak, she hasn’t faced a notable shortage in supplies, something that she shared with many of her peers working in other hospitals. However, the outbreak has mandated that she take necessary actions to preserve her health, like limiting exposure to patients unless they begin to show symptoms.

With COVID-19 being there, we are providing regular care, but the patients who are supposed to come in are not able to come in because of the risk of COVID-19, so the regular care is getting affected too.”

— Radhika Kumari

In addition, the health of patients is even more of a concern because of COVID-19 risks. The outbreak has forced Stanford to reject transfer patients unless the care they need is only available at Stanford, and many patients are unable to receive regular care at their normally scheduled times.

“We are not able to get patients to Stanford for transplants at a regular time because we have to wait for their COVID-19 testing to come back negative,” Kumari said. “So these patients who are waiting to come in are dying. With COVID-19 being there, we are providing regular care, but the patients who are supposed to come in are not able to come in because of the risk of COVID-19, so the regular care is getting affected too.”

Kumari says that the biggest problem that physicians face is treating patients without permitting their friends and family members to be present and care for them.

“For example, we had a patient the other day who was pre-transplant and she was COVID-19 negative, but she had a huge infection and they had to take her to surgery,” Kumari said. “But after surgery, she can’t get up and walk, [and] we helped [her] out when she [needed] help but… there [were] no family members.”

The hospital is still in the process of addressing other challenges, including a shortage of staffing that required workers like Kumari to cover for her peers. Despite the increased risk and chaos that has been introduced to her work, Kumari explains that she has been able to remain dedicated to her work and confront cases of COVID-19 head-on. To all of the teenagers sheltering-in-place, she urges them to endure after seeing how much of an impact it has on California.

“Just hang on in there — we are trying to nip this thing, so I would just recommend hanging on for a couple of more weeks to help decrease the spread in the community,” Kumari said.

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