Frontline Stories: Vibhu Krishna and Kendall Sarson, MD Candidates at Columbia Vagelos College of Physicians & Surgeons and Creators of Faces of the Frontline
By: Arooba Ahmed (CC '23)
"You get so used to checking in on patients room by room, being the person who knows their story really well and holding their hand when things are going wrong. Now, that ability to touch and connect is gone. So we made efforts to help via remote operations. I volunteered through CSSC—they have a student run hotline where people call in with symptoms and I provide resources and guidance. I would sit for a five hour shift and get many calls, some of which were heart wrenching. I had one really emotional conversation with a nurse who called in sobbing late at night. She said “I just took off my PPE and I got sneezed on by a COVID-19 patient, what do I do?” I was almost in tears with her while trying to talk through what happened and give her the number for occupational hazard. It was intense moments like these when I felt raw human emotion across a digital interface."
"I was also helping patients through the phone. I volunteer in the OB/GYN project, and there was a phone outreach program for postpartum patients. We would call them the day after they returned home to ask them how they were doing and check for red flags. It was similar to how it would be in the hospital. I had to have many difficult conversations over the phone; for example, depression and inter-partner violence screenings. It is uncomfortable as is, but over the phone when you can’t see each other, I had no idea what their reactions were. Sometimes there would also be a translator in between, which made it all even more disorienting. But in the end, it was so rewarding. Almost every woman who I called thanked me. Many of my patients were isolated in their homes alone, and sometimes I was their only form of contact."
"As students, we also heard many stories from people still working in the hospital. There were doctors on twelve hour shifts without proper PPE watching patients die every single day. It was stories like these when I realized that I wanted there to be a space for frontline workers to share how they felt— hence why I started Faces of the Frontline. The world needed to bear witness to everything they were going through and I wanted to provide them with this platform for support.
The first few weeks of the platform, there were days where I would mine through 200 stories, all from people who I would have never met, from fifteen different countries. It was beautiful to be able to connect with them through this platform. Hearing fellow doctors feel grateful about having a place to share their stories online and give them a moment of catharsis… that’s what gets me through."
"I edit the photo submissions for the stories on Faces of the Frontline. Some days, if a certain song came on while I was looking at a photo submission, I would burst into tears. The images really add to the reality of the stories. But the fact that I feel this way is important, because these people deserve for us to look back at their picture, and like Vibhu said, bear witness to what they feel.
We also opened an artwork collection page on our website a month or two ago, and I collected a database of artists who support health professionals, like artists in the UK who are creating portraits to commemorate National Health Service heroes. We wanted to give these artists a sense of assurance that what they were creating made an impact on people. As someone familiar with both art and medicine, it's so interesting to see how they are interwoven and how art is being used now to express emotions that are unable to be expressed in any other way."
"During these times of uncertainty, Faces of the Frontlines has not only helped to commend frontline workers, but it’s also given us a space to cope-- by connecting with the world and with its heroes on a far more expansive level than we could’ve ever expected."
Visit https://www.facesofthefrontline.org/ to read stories from Frontline workers, submit a story, nominate heroes, view artwork, and more.
Follow Faces of the Frontline on Instagram at @facesofthefrontline.