Your Story: What Matters To You Now?

In support of the Columbia University Archives Documenting COVID-19 at Columbia project, CUHR has created a collection of stories from faculty and staff impacted by Covid-19.

Read & Watch the Stories

My daughter and I took this video on March 20, 2020, at the beginning of quarantine. The two of us have been isolating in our NYC apartment since. In this video, Covid and quarantine are all quite new to us. We had no idea how long it would last. Fortunately, we are both healthy and have been able to work/go to school online.The Columbia Campus is one of the few places we felt safe visiting. Other than campus we rarely left our apartment for the first few months. It is our sanctuary.

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Vladimir Sheynzon, MD, arrived at NewYork Presbyterian Allen Hospital in Manhattan in late March to an alarming scene. Patients, many in serious condition with symptoms of COVID-19, lined the corridors all the way to the elevators. The view of the ambulance bay from Dr. Sheynzon’s second-floor office reflected the desperate circumstances.

“Normally, you see one ambulance coming in every 20 minutes or so, but on those days, they were lined up on the driveway coming into the emergency room,” he recalled. “Three or four ambulances would unload patients and leave, then another three or four would come in to take their place.”

Dr. Sheynzon, an interventional radiologist at Columbia University Medical Center and NewYork Presbyterian, had come to Allen Hospital as part of a Surgical Workforce Access Team, or COVID SWAT for short. He and his team of resident physicians were there to perform the difficult but important job of placing lines into patients’ veins and arteries to deliver fluids and medications. The work was sorely needed, as the hospital’s surgeons were swamped with patients and most of the other physician specialists who were pitching in to help had only limited experience placing lines.

“It would be nearly impossible for someone who hasn’t touched a needle in a long time to place these lines,” Dr. Sheynzon said. “Asking these physicians to do that plus making all the clinical decisions would have been overwhelming.”

Using ultrasound for guidance, the SWAT teams from the Departments of Radiology and Surgery worked around the clock, running lines into the very small radial arteries in the wrist for some patients and placing large catheters in the necks of others who were undergoing dialysis.

Staff worked at considerable personal risk and sacrifice. Dr. Sheynzon and his physician wife sent their children to live with their grandparents until the pandemic abated in mid-May.

“It was incredibly sad to see all those patients, but it was inspiring the way this institution was able to convert all the operating rooms to a COVID ICU,” he said. “Otherwise, we would have run out of room. We were able to save so many people.”

Originally posted on RSNA News, June 23, 2020

AySheWrites is turning 21 today, so I called to wish her a happy day. My sister answers the phone and I hear a celebration in the background, which makes me very happy. It’s always quiet when I call. With a cheesy grin, I said my regular, “Hello darlin’.” Ahsien said, “Mommy died.” Silence. Not the usual ‘hey girly’ that I was ready for. Silence. I said it for her. “Hey girly.” It could have been a question. A prompt. A plea. Shock. Not sure. I hurried off the phone and into my cell. I felt trapped, not by the walls, but by the selfishness of Anita Baker. Her words were beautiful, but she wouldn’t listen to me. I tried to sing away the pain, but that only hurt my ears more than my heart was aching. I switched to Yolanda Adams and felt the full weight of her truth. I was truly alone. Despite being around 856 people, without Mommy, no one was present. It’s the worst thing in the world to have to deal with such grief while institutionalized. No, it’s not. Diabetes took Daddy’s last breath. Sickle Cell Anemia took my niece’s (Ahsien’s daughter) life. A stray (or intended) bullet took my young cousin out. Drug game retaliation, ignorance, and fire burned down my sister’s house and car. None because of, but all during the Pandemic. Other people’s grief and pain is harder to handle. I know what song to sing for me, but I don’t know if just a hug is enough for you.

A friend of mine recently said he thinks one of the positives coming out of our human response to the pandemic is families becoming stronger. That's definitely been true in my case and it's a lesson I know will last.

Concerns about families living in a different city or country have been stressful and mentally challenging for many. “I was very stressed about my infected friends here in NY and about my parents and grandparents back in California. Focusing on work has been difficult,” says Aubrianna Decker.

Read Q&A on the Impact of Pandemic on Postdocs and Graduate Students, published by the Herbert and Florence Irving Institute for Cancer Dynamics, written by Presha Rajbhandari.

A Poem (sent as an email to a friend in London on April 2020):

On Riverside Park (April 2020)

Magnolias do not care.
Selfishly they exhibit their violent beauty.
And cherry blossom keeps to its pale splendor.
Worried and hesitant,
Like the hungry pigeons on Broadway Avenue,
Masked our faces
And look at the blossoms in fear,
On Riverside Park,
On this early morning of April.

Silence fell.
As ever,

As the sun idly broke through the horizon,
Welcoming the morning dawn,
A mourning dove lamented.
All of a sudden,
A jogger cut the air.

Anxiously uttered to me:
‘Shall we take the other path?’
‘Yes’, I hurriedly answered
We walked back home.

(A 15 min walk on this early morning of April, before the sun broke the horizon, praying for a better year, stay safe, dear Sussan, and love to all your family).

I want to share my short story about how I was forced to became creative and developed something virtual that I never thought would be possible!

I have been teaching microvascular surgery courses at the micro lab at the Dept of Orthopedics for the last 25 years and quite well known in the small microsurgery community around the world. When we had to close the lab because of pandemic, I was quite upset not knowing what to do because I thought that can’t teach microsurgery from home not having microscopes and all equipment and the models. I only have my brain and my experience so I posted a short notice on one of the FB clubs page for the microsurgeons then if anyone has any questions or needs of help I’m open to offer my expertise. I had no idea how many surgeons around the world would respond; my personal FB got overwhelmed with friends requests and questions about how to practice at home, or develop the lab, or do different procedures. I was stunned so I had to open a new FB page as a micro E-learning club that got 2.5K members in a few days and then I brought up all my network of instructors in micro from different countries and we designed a virtual E-Learning community. We post lectures, exercises, people share their experiencing, etc. and ask questions. It became very popular very quickly!

So I would have never thought that I can teach microsurgery from my living room on a zoom. But hey, you never know!

I also had an interest in life coaching so being at home gave me time to develop a online course in neuroscience of emotional intelligence for HCPs to help them to cope with stress, burnout and balancing their life-work time. Together with a friend from UK who is a professor of neuroscience and a coach, we gave a few free webinars and run the course for 6 weeks and had very good feedback from our students!! And I’m telling you -- it felt great and rewarding to see that we helped a few medical professionals in such hard time!

So my story tells that in a time of crisis you can always find something to do to be helpful and creative and stay positive!!

Never give up and just think how to apply what you know best virtually and don’t hesitate to try getting into something new and exciting!! If you never try you will never achieve!! Good luck !!

Online course: Preventing Burnout for MD's in times of crisis: Webinar Series

This blog post was published on Columbia Commencement Day at ETH Zurich:

The Morningside campus is deserted. My dog Pickles Shlafmitz and I check on it every other day. We do our rounds. We run, tumble, and play ball. The silence is disturbing. Has this time and space continuum of study fallen under a spell, like a kingdom in a fairy tale?

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My sports medicine practice was shut down, professional soccer & baseball were shut down, and the operating room where I perform surgery on Fridays was converted to an ICU to manage the surge of patients requiring ventilators. 

Read Coronavirus Humility for a Sports Medicine Surgeon in the ER

I have always believed that music has a special power and that it makes the world a better place. Being away from work for 4 months has been a very interesting experience. Often times I find myself a little on edge and anxious. When this happens, I turn to music.

Throughout this pandemic and quarantining times, music has gotten me through those difficult and challenging days I encountered while working from home.

I've heard it say that music also brings the world together and it did bring me closer to some great friends. Though virtually, I was able to unite with my friends from Russia (on the piano), and a friend and former CU employee (trumpet) all the way from the State of Georgia. I myself was in a remote town in Winchester, New Hampshire.
We would have weekly zoom chats to catch up and support each other during these global crisis. We were also able to experience another amazing phenomenon: Music LITERALLY brought us together. The video below is one of the few songs we were able to record while in different places.

To those out there that may need a tool to help you overcome those obstacles in life, I ask you to turn to music. We did and it helps!!!

As the text says "Call the brave", I'm calling all Columbians to be brave and to be strong for we will make it.

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One of the saddest events of this pandemic is losing my son's therapist Dr. Grant. Doctor Grant has been family to us. He succumbed to COVID19 on April 9, 2020. I met him over 8 years ago when I sort counseling for my son after a separation from my spouse. My son had no change in his behavior after our separation and I was concerned about the impact it may have on him. The good news is Dr. Grant met with him alone and he was impressed. He advised me after they met that my son was doing very well and whatever I was doing continue because he is very well balanced.

He stayed in contact with the both of us to the extent that he would take calls from me at anytime to support me in my son's growth and development. My son would take the subway after school to Brooklyn at times to see him for a session when being a teen was difficult. Dr. Grant was always open and accommodating. He gave me feedback to support my son and lots of food for thought. I was shocked and surprised when the pastor called to tell me that he passed away. I hid the news from my son for 2 weeks. He was also shocked and hurt because Dr. Grant was a confidential, loving, caring supportive voice that would listen to all aspects of life. He also gave him options and tools for life. The good news is that we had him for over 8 years and his commitment to my son's future will always be remembered. He was and is a blessing to us.

This is my brother's story. I can say I faced similar discrimination during daily exercise (walks or playing tennis) as a first generation immigrant from India.

On the other hand, our team I work with is very diverse and Dr. Jinsy Andrews our clinical trials director and associate professor in neurology has been nothing but encouraging to open conversations and always provided us with the support we needed and always inspiring us. I'm lucky to work with this team in such hatred filled times.

Read Full Story: When the jokes aren't funny
(Science Magazine)

You’re hoping for the best, but you’re expecting it could get worse. You start thinking "What can I do?" And all of the sudden it hits you: "There’s really nothing I can do." And it's alienating. 

Read Full Story: "The Most Difficult Aspect of This Is the Unknown": Bioethics Leader Sameer Ladha Reflects on a Positive COVID-19 Diagnosis


Miguel Angél — Special Needs in the time of coronavirus

On Thursday, March 12, my laboratory at Columbia University had its last in-person meeting — only days before social distancing measures were to be put in place and research was to be “ramped down”. I recall this moment so vividly because it was my turn to present the experimental progress I’ve made over the past few months. I got up to the podium and before I presented said, “thank you all for being here and welcome to the last lab meeting for the year”. The lab laughed for a brief moment, a relief in times of despair that would follow.

I am now back in the lab during phase two “ramp up”, and through times of struggle, I now write to reflect on the events that transpired and sparked a movement in my community. After giving my lab meeting, and shutting down my research efforts, I returned to New Jersey to check up on my mom, aunt, and brother who had been in voluntary quarantine as a preemptive measure. You see, we feared my brother would contract and spread this virus if he continued to be outside — it wasn’t a matter of if but when.

My eldest brother, Miguel, was born on November 27th, 1979 in Quito, Ecuador. At 1 pound, 12 ounces my mother was told he would not live beyond the year. This was further complicated by ongoing seizures he suffered during adolescence. In the end, my brother not only survived but thrived. Although, his early life adversity left him challenged both physically and mentally — he never let that get in his way. My family emigrated to the US in 1996, and although Miguel was hesitant at first about leaving all his friends behind, it did not take long for him to make new ones. This is one of the legacies my brother leaves behind and the solution to a question I have received regarding him time and time again. If he’s mentally challenged, how can he be so social and outgoing? I shrugged it off and just let Miguel do the talking. Despite being diagnosed with the intelligence of a 7-year-old, he was a gregarious man.

Despite his social nature, what others did not usually see was my brothers’ need for constant care. Miguel suffered from poor hygiene and obsessive behaviors. He would continuously put his hand in his mouth, eat with his hands — as he was uncoordinated with utensils, and rarely brushed his teeth, which, by the age of 41 left him with but a few remaining. He would throw tantrums, was displeased by rules, and most of all disliked health check-ups. But as he would say, “Yo soy hombre” … “I am a man” — so prior to a doctor’s appointment, he would request the same nurse aides. They had a way of calming Miguel. And on his way out he would ask to give each nurse a kiss on the cheek and make sure that he had a lollipop on the way out. His presence was felt and he knew it.

When I returned home on March 16th to see my brother, mom, and aunt, I was greeted with warm hugs and by my brother’s inquisitive nature. Why can’t I go outside? We explained to him that it was dangerous now but that we would be able to go back to our normal lives soon. We knew this wouldn’t be the case, but it was the only way for us to keep him calm. He sorely missed his friends and the local supermarket where he passed time by bagging groceries and conversing with the locals who adored him.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 had reached my hometown of Elizabeth, NJ by storm. My extended family and friends had symptoms though infection was yet to be confirmed due to a lack of testing. On March 29th, I myself had a rapidly rising fever, headache, and sense of unease. This lasted for three days. I soon realized that I had to get tested if not for me, for those I interacted with. Unfortunately, I was not granted a referral needed for a drive-thru test offered by the state at the time.

If I couldn’t get tested, I decided I would restrict my contact with family. From my bedroom I could hear the cacophony of coughing and wheezing coming from each bedroom. These symptoms progressed over a week period for my brother, mother, and aunt and I decided I had to break my quarantine — to ease the burden of care.
We were granted a referral to have my brother tested on April, 2nd. Miguel claimed he did not have this “so-called virus” and that he was fine, even as his coughing demonstrated the opposite. After 2 hours in line at the testing center, the nurse practitioner used a nasal swab to perform the test but my brother resisted. In the roar of cars honking, efforts of an eager nurse, and me begging him to just give it a try he finally conceded only to jerk his head away as soon as he felt the swab go too deep. I knew that it was not properly performed and I begged my brother to try again but both he and the practitioner refused. We were told these would make do. Miguel continued to cough and wheeze and presented bowel difficulties and no appetite. We called the testing center for results but were told that they did not have them yet and to continue to wait.

At this point, time was of the essence. His physician recommended JFK hospital in Edison, NJ. On April 9th we took him. Miguel resisted, crying and begging to not go to the hospital, but eventually, he conceded. Upon entering the emergency room, my brother felt the anxiety and began to throw a tantrum, and although we tried to make sure his mouth was covered he was reluctant. We were soon escorted to a private room where the raucous could be contained. We patiently and eagerly waited for someone to look in on him. Doctors performed a chest x-ray and another COVID-19 test. After 12 hours we were sent home. I couldn’t believe it! My brother was just as sick, if not more than some of the patients there. But we put trust in the system and I knew that my brother’s difficulty with care was not to be ruled out. Nevertheless, we complied.

After battling one of the toughest weekends of our lives, my mother and aunt slowly recovered but my brother continued to worsen. We called the hospital on the following Wednesday and were told that he was indeed COVID-19 positive and that we would receive medication later that day.

I implored my brother to go to the hospital one more time — “it won’t be so bad, you’ll see!” That was met with another tantrum. Later that day we received Miguel’s medication. My mother gave him his first dose of hydroxychloroquine and he immediately complained of stomach pain. I asked once more: “let’s go to the hospital, please!” He refused and said he’d rest.

It was 9 pm, and as I peered into his room and saw my brother gasping for air in his sleep, I told my mom that we had to go to the hospital that instant, even if he refused. We woke him and all got dressed and I told him, “get on my back Miguel, I’ll carry you to the car”. Among his crying and shouting he refused, “I am a man”. We helped him walk toward the running car but Miguel collapsed in my arms.

This is a brief story of my brother Miguel and our family’s battle with COVID-19. Treatment for Miguel was never anything out of the ordinary for us, we had always faced certain difficulties that come with the medical needs of a person with special needs — the tantrums, his choosiness about who will treat him, and along with it, the animated interactions with his favorite doctors and nurses but an inability to adapt to unfamiliar ones. The events of COVID-19 revealed another layer to the challenges required in treating patients with special needs such as Miguel. In the midst of chaos and the unknown, I do not blame medical professionals but I will always know that things could have transpired differently.

The outpouring from the community was nothing short of inspiring. People all over town dropped off flowers, offered financial support, and words of encouragement about how Miguel made them smile. I, unexpectedly, found a core of support from the Columbia community. My professors, doctoral advisors, and program directors came to our aid. My brother is no longer with us but his legacy will endure by those he touched and funds collected in his honor through a massively successful GoFundMe campaign: Miguel Angél Mision.

These events highlight how difficult it can normally be to provide medical treatment for patients with special needs. In the time of coronavirus, this difficulty is amplified, which pinpoints a hole in our medical system — how to properly deal and work with special needs children and adults. How that comes about is a matter of debate and thought. But one that nevertheless must be had, and I am eager to contribute to those discussions on behalf of Miguel and the millions of families also caring for their loved ones with special needs.

Originally  published June 28, 2020 on Medium blog.



I am blessed and grateful to be COVID-19 survivor, especially being so many, many lives were lost. The virus was like nothing I ever experienced in my lifetime. I still am experiencing side effects and pushing through them. Having gone through it for 5 weeks, I know what is most important and so very appreciative for this gift of life. I am eternally grateful and thankful for my brother who never left my side. To my family, friends and CUIMC and Morningside campus team, thank you all for the prayers and words of encouragement. I look forward with excitement at spending time again with ALL!

My logical mind keeps wondering – why? Why is this happening? Why now? Why to us?

Are we being punished? Punished for not caring enough - about ourselves, about our families, about each other, about the planet?

I have been through Kennedy’s death, Martin Luther King’s death, the civil rights protests, the Vietnam War protests, Katrina, 9/11 … and none felt like this. The fear of the unknown, the isolation, the concern for humankind and our future as a country.

I thought often of what do I say to my daughter. How do I explain what is happening? How do I ease her fears? How do I provide her hope and say everything will be alright when I am not sure it will be?

My Uncle passed away from COVID in New York City during the height of the outbreak. He needed dialysis three times a week and was high-risk. Like so many others, he deserved so much better. He didn’t receive the type of memorial service our family wanted to give him – the type that he deserved.

There have been good times. Game nights, cooking together as a family, laughing at a movie or television show. Listening to ‘oldies’ and dancing as we remembered a different time. Talking to friends that you just never had the time to catch-up with. Taking an afternoon walk and hearing the birds and seeing nature around you in what seemed to be a new way.

As each day passes, I hope. I hope my family, friends and I remain healthy and safe. I hope my town, my state, my hometown – NYC, my country survives and gets through this. Most of all, I hope and pray, we are better after all of this. Better family members, better friends, better colleagues, better neighbors, a better country and a better planet.

Maybe this happened to slow us down, to stop the madness and to force us to re-evaluate, to provide us a chance to appreciate so many things we took for granted and to provide us with an opportunity to be … better. Rest in peace, Uncle Norris!


Our spring semester online course, Fundraising and Development, which is part of Columbia University School of Social Work’s (CSSW) Master’s of Science in Social Work program, was an elective course for students in their final semester of the management and leadership track of our MSW program, and fits into an overall curriculum that includes program planning and evaluation, human resources management, financial management, and macro community practice. The students specifically advocated for a fundraising course as one of their spring choices. Matthea was the Instructor, Katherine was the Associate (a role that’s similar to a TA and focuses on supporting the academic quality of the course), and Nicole was the Live Support Specialist (a role that’s similar to a virtual event producer and focuses on supporting the technical quality of the live class sessions).

The course began in March 2020, with our first class session on March 10. The next day, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, and the next week was spring break. Columbia University, which is located in New York City, had already been taking steps to protect student safety, such as moving residential courses online, but our course was already online, with our students located across the United States.

As a result, the policy impact that most affected our course came with the University’s announcement on March 20 that all spring semester courses would be graded pass/fail. This policy impact freed us to make significant changes to our course assignments and grading policies mid-semester, in collaboration with each other as the instructional team, as well as with the students. In anticipation of students needing accommodations during the pandemic, we decided to update the course grading, modify the final assignment, and increase overall supports for the students. We also implemented trauma-informed teaching strategies in response to the changing circumstances in the world, which had a significant impact on students and which we recognized could contribute to increased experiences of trauma. Trauma-informed teaching recognizes that past and ongoing trauma can impact current student success, and employs strategies to foster a supportive environment and reduce barriers to learning. An example is sharing power with students through collaboration and choice about course decisions.

After the course concluded, we wrote a blog post outlining our approach, changes we made, and recommendations we have for the future.