Grinnellian Covid Experiences - Rhashedah Ekeoduru ’03

“My mask sometimes frightens my pediatric patients.”

June 24, 2020 — Rhashedah Ekeoduru ’03 is a pediatric anesthesiologist and associate professor of anesthesiology at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth.

Rhashedah Ekeoduru ’03
    Rhashedah Ekeoduru ’03

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic was frightening for me because my role as an anesthesiologist requires me to get close to patients’ faces to assist their breathing, place breathing tubes, and manage their tracheostomies. I am very high risk for contracting COVID-19.

Many physicians and I began wearing N95 masks throughout the entire workday. It is very difficult to breathe naturally while wearing these masks, and they can cause tension headaches. We previously only wore these masks when caring for patients afflicted with tuberculosis, so supplies were limited and dwindled quickly.

To protect ourselves, many of us sought assistance from friends and family members who had access to N95 masks. We also wore masks obtained from hardware stores.

Today, high-risk personnel like me have been fit-tested for special N100 masks fashioned with high-efficiency air filters. One downside is that they sometimes frighten my pediatric patients, so I have had to get very creative in order to provide a safe and comfortable clinical environment for them. We also are required to place plastic sheets over patients’ faces prior to any airway intervention. This is a change in practice and requires imagination and finesse for success. I typically tell my kiddos that we are pretending as though we are going to go camping. One of the camp activities is to “blow up the balloon” – the anesthesia mask and circuit that will put them to sleep for the procedure. I am proud of how my colleagues and I stood strong, adapted, and collaborated during an unprecedented and unexpected crisis.

Everyone has the same common challenge right now, so we are doing our best to uplift each other's spirits. I focus on maintaining my health and wellness by staying active (I purchased a Peloton at the start of the pandemic) and maintaining my creativity through painting. I have also taken advantage of some of my newfound free time by writing papers on the importance of ethical practice in medicine.

I am optimistic that a vaccine will become available within the next year that will allow us to regain a sense of normalcy and peace.

Read more stories about Grinnellians facing COVID-19 head-on.