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'It's been a whole range of emotions': IU School of Medicine fellows on the COVID-19 frontlines

"I never anticipated is that I would be family, doctor, friend and caregiver for one person"
Posted at 8:23 PM, Jan 16, 2021

INDIANAPOLIS — COVID-19 quickly became Dr. Roberto Swazo's reality back in March.

"We signed up for this, this is what we love. I didn't necessarily sign up to be in the middle of a pandemic, you know, but it did happens, I guess?" Swazo said. “I was the first fellow to get deployed on the COVID ICU unit."

But for him, this pandemic is also personal.

"I did end up losing my grandfather to COVID back in April, so it's been it hit home from the beginning,” he said.

Swazo is on the frontlines as a fellow with IU School of Medicine. First-year fellow Dr. Cinthya Carrasco and third-year fellow Dr. Francesca Duncan are fighting the virus head-on alongside him.

"What I never anticipated is that I would be family, doctor, friend, and caregiver for one person every day,” Carrasco said.

The Pulmonary and Critical Care Fellowship is an intense three-year-long clinical and research-based program. There are less than two dozen physicians in the program.

“We all had to kind of step up and learn very, very quickly," Duncan said. "There were times in which we were kind of responsible, and in the sense that we had to kind of act as an attending because they were just so many patients that we had to care for."

Essentially fellows are trained doctors who are looking to become experts in a particular field.

"It's been a whole range of emotions, from frustration, you know, people not believing in it, and not knowing kind of what we're dealing with on a daily basis," Swazo said. "Even to, you know, to gratitude, I think so many people are kind of working together so well as teams and kind of leaning on each other for support."

These fellows all came to Indy from different backgrounds. Carrasco is from Mexico, Swazo was born in Puerto Rico and Duncan grew up in Georgia. They all, though, share a passion for helping others.

“What makes me go every day, I think it's exactly that just thinking that not as just my job, but it's my privilege, a few people have the chance to help,” Carrasco said.

Inside the four walls of the COVID ICU, it is their classmates, who turned into their family, that gets them through some of the hospital's darkest days.

"Since everyone is there with a sole goal in mind, to help others, we also provide that emotional support for each other,” Duncan said.

Within the last few weeks, these fellows can now say they are fully vaccinated against the deadly virus. It is something they say means an end to the pandemic is near.

"I think the beginning of the pandemic, the word was like fear," Duncan said. "Now we're feeling very, very hopeful."