Essential Stories: Maurice Cooper

Voices in Humanism Essential Stories

“Good Morning, My Name is Maurice”

Maurice Cooper, Environmental Services, EVS, The Brain and Spine Hospital, The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center

      Maurice Cooper came into his third year working in hospital environmental services in March 2020 with the same trepidation as most. COVID patients began arriving, and with discoveries yet to be made about this new virus, fears ran high.

     “I was worried every single day in the beginning,” Maurice said. “I still get worried about catching COVID and I have been exposed twice and tested twice but I am fine. We learned how to handle cleaning and how to take precautions and that has helped.”

     We see news stories of pots and pans being banged to honor doctors and nurses for their selfless work and pizzas delivered to Emergency Rooms to reward the staff. Yet, on the very front lines of infection fighting are our unsung heroes, the housekeeping battalions fighting the sanitizing wars. Without them, the enemy would run rampant defeating all other efforts.

     “We go through a three-step cleaning process,” Maurice explained. It consists of first the general clean up, then the thorough clean, and then with the patient still in residence, finding out what the patient also needs to have completed. With a patient diagnosed with COVID and released, there is a thorough bleaching of everything. According to Maurice, this cleaning is welcomed for what it does for the next patient but, “it is also what helps keep us out of the hospital beds too,” he reasoned.

     For the COVID patients, Maurice and his co-workers are covered with protective wear head to foot and sometimes he finds it hard to breathe with so much outer wear. None of this prevents Maurice from following protocol and also being a kind human being to even the sickest non-communicative patients.

     “Last week I witnessed a death. It was heartbreaking. The person could barely talk. It was a thumbs up or an eye blink,” he related. I would offer my message on the board and write, Good Morning, My Name is Maurice, I am here to clean your room.” Even though the patient lost the battle against COVID, Maurice’s compassion, warm smiling eyes, and cleaning skills showed the patient he and others were there to help.

     Consider “sterile” conditions in 1900 hospitals and see how far we have come. Surgeons wore street clothes and shoes with a type of butcher’s apron over top.  Open air operating rooms had come-as-you are spectators. Until the 1980’s nurses sported a small white starched cap perched atop their heads. Ambulances were horse drawn carriages. Sanitation improved but 2020’s COVID whirled all into another galaxy of clean.

     Maurice recently won “Employee of the Month” on his floor, a recognition he is especially proud of. “I understand usually nurses win the award and the nurse manager said I was the first housekeeper to win it. It’s hanging on the door where we clock in.” Maurice has much respect for the nurses whom he says so often represent the family members who cannot visit the COVID patients and do an incredible amount of work under extreme circumstances.

     Director of Environmental Services at Ross Heart Hospital, Meghan Taucher, said of Maurice, he is someone you can rely on. “He goes out of his way to help anyone and everyone. He has the biggest heart and is one of the kindest people I have ever met. Maurice cares so much about his job. He knows how important his role is in keeping the patients and staff members safe. He works hard day in and day out but always does so with a smile on his face. You can tell that he loves what he does and loves making a difference in people’s lives. Maurice is AWESOME!”

     Maurice’s respect for others extends to his managers and the hospital system itself. He said with a crack of emotion in his voice, “I am so touched by what Meghan said about me. She goes out of her way to be understanding. You know, that patient in the bed could be any one of us in the hospital and that’s why I do my work the way I do. I try and set a good example with my job and pass it on to others.”

     Manager Brice Hulsether also receives high praise from Maurice for making sure they have everything they need to sanitize and maintain cleanliness; priority one in a hospital. As far as working for the hospital, Buckeye fan Maurice Cooper feels about his work environment as he does about next year’s OSU football team. He said, “I have faith in them.” He also said, “The entire hospital, everybody inspires me in their own way.”

    Maurice’s work ethic is heaven sent.  “Just make the best out of everyday and bring all the smiles. Do what you’re supposed to do and do not worry about what you cannot do.”  Those are the words of Maurice’s mother who instructed him in how to be a good person. His mother passed away at the age of 48. Maurice, now 35, said, “Her words stick with me every day.” His mother cautioned, “You can’t do everything. Do what you can.”

     In the height of the pandemic when everyone needed to acknowledge what they could do and what they could not do, that dark cloud of helpless stress fell heavily throughout the hospital among dedicated individuals who are trained to nurture, heal, and save. COVID was testing their resolve. Still, everyone soldiered on, masked, with hands cracking from so many washings. They set aside sadness and fear in order to treat and save patients.

     Not everyone could be saved, but everyone can follow Maurice’s mother’s advice and do what they can and “bring the smiles” while they work.

     Sometimes a glorious saving grace could be a face of sincere warmth, even masked, and words of care written on the board: “Good Morning, My name is Maurice. I am here to clean your room.”

     With Maurice and all of the housekeepers, the old adage is true, cleanliness is next to godliness.

Patricia Wynn Brown
Writer and Performer
Medicine and the Arts Board
Author: ESSENTIAL STORIES: Medicine During Covid-19 and the Lives of the Practitioners at The OSU Wexner Center

Fresh Flowers

Voices in Humanism

Fresh Flowers
“The spring came suddenly bursting upon the world as a child bursts
into a room with a laugh and a shout and hands full of flowers.”
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Jody Glasser Sobol
Photographer
Medical Student Mom
Voices in Humanism Advisor

Pink Flower

Voices in Humanism

“The most precious gift we can offer anyone is our
attention. When mindfulness embraces those we
love, they will bloom like flowers.”
-Thich Nhat Hanh

Jody Glasser Sobol
Photographer
Medical Student Mom
Voices in Humanism Advisor

Butterfly

Voices in Humanism

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the
changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”
-Maya Angelou

Jody Glasser Sobol
Photographer
Medical Student Mom
Voices in Humanism Advisor

Strong women come from strong women

Voices in Humanism

Strong women come from strong women.

My grandmother was born a Jewish mother.
She breathes it. Embodies it.
My mother was not born a Jewish mother
but rather
was destined to become one
like finding her Jewishness
was a pair of warm socks
that hug you just right at night.
She wanted me to be a doctor,
so naturally I didn’t, then I did.
She wanted me to marry a doctor,
so naturally I didn’t, then I did.
Can’t you just picture their soft voices
singing lullabies to me at night
invisible hopes rocking me
toward who they knew
I would be.

Jessica Rutsky, MD
Pediatric Gastroenterology Fellow
Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center
OSU College of Medicine Class of 2017
Vanderbilt University Class of 2012

Essential Stories: Jeff Horowitz

Voices in Humanism 

“Godzilla vs. Science”

Dr. Jeff Horowitz, Director of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine, the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center

Dr. Jeff Horowitz, one of the firsts to receive the vaccine at OSU

“Our breathing ties us to each other. The atmosphere is a communal space, and lungs are an extension of it,” writes pulmonologist Michael J. Stephen in his book, “Breath Taking: The Power, Fragility, and Future of Our Extraordinary Lungs

The COVID pandemic has laid claim to its stomping ground, and like monster Godzilla, it crashed and thrashed through the world’s health. It seeks its vengeance in many ways, including merciless attacks on our lungs. The folklore nymph deity, Ondine, who has an actual breathing anomaly named for her, has definitely cast another cruel curse. Medical practitioners became part of the soldiers to battle the novel assault with the ICU as the final saving zone.

Dr. Jeffrey Horowitz M.D., a physician-scientist, started his position at Ohio State in January 2020. By March the first of the COVID patients began showing up. He has been a pulmonologist for 20 years but with the COVID treatment, “It was like learning to fly while you are landing the plane. Everything was changing so quickly,” he said, “it was an incredibly hectic time with medical decision-making, working out hypotheses, discerning opinion cases, implementing research protocols, all in a deliberate and thoughtful manner.”

Dr. Horowitz spent two hours on Sunday evenings communicating with colleagues going over the newest care guidelines and treatments which changed by the day. He said, “My approach is to remain calm, process the information and not overreact. Do things that we know work. Then apply the new approaches.”

Sporting a Chicago Cubs t-shirt, (he is from the western suburbs of Chicago), Dr. Horowitz happened to be one of the first to receive the COVID vaccine at OSU. By chance, he was in media photographs, the CNN B-role videos, and one of Governor DeWine’s videos on that historic day.

He was happy to be one of the first to receive the shot not so much for his own well-being, nor for the attention of the press, but to, as he put it, “be up front, be visible, ‘let me take the risk,’ lead from the front. That’s what leaders do though I have trusted the vaccine from the very start and I will feel good when 300 million vaccines have been given.”

He is an Avengers and Star Wars fan but when this writer brought up the heroism of Capt. America and those who treat COVID patients, Dr. Horowitz was quick to put any label of hero aside for himself, notwithstanding, the long hours, writing death certificates for 6 patients in 7 days, being separated from his family for 10 weeks in the beginning of the pandemic, and being new to the position when a pandemic struck.

“I am more like the reluctant hero. There are days when I say to myself, ‘what the hell am I doing here?’ We discover we are the right person to be doing it. There is the firefighter going into the burning building, or the police officer walking into the chaos. They are special. I am not unique, nothing special.”

Neil Armstrong was a “reluctant” real life hero. Hans Solo in “Star Wars” and Frodo Baggins in “The Lord of the Rings” are fictional reluctant heroes. We see reluctant heroes on the news speaking the same refrain as they save a child who fell through the ice or lift a car off the lifeless body. “I’m not a hero. I just did what needed to be done.”

Those called to action bear the burden of their missions selflessly. In the final comic book panel of the cling-master, Spider-Man, he says, “With great power there must also come great responsibility.”

In addition to those special people he mentioned, Dr. Horowitz offers this assessment. He holds considerable admiration for the heroics of the nurses. “They are the true heroes. They are in the rooms all the time.”

Despite many 16-hour-days, he checks his pace as one hour at a time, one day at a time. He is grateful OSU was never completely overrun like the hospitals on the east and west coasts. He does observe, however, the severity of the illness increasing and also recognizes the emotional trauma patients face post ICU interventions and a need for counseling for them.

One patient, he recalled, was “a big strong guy who had been intubated and was very scared. He panicked as we set up to intubate him. Then he went to the general med floor post intubation and he was still having shortness of breath and was so frustrated.”

A woman who had been intubated and required ECMO (extra-corporeal membrane oxygenation, in which blood is pumped through a circuit that provides oxygen, essentially serving to bypass the lungs) for several weeks. She needed a tracheostomy tube and a feeding tube, and over the course of several months, improved enough to be liberated from ventilator assistance. He met her in the outpatient clinic. She was still on oxygen and short of breath and involved in minimal activities. He said, “She will need a ton more rehabilitation and probably has scarring of the lungs. But, she just seems happy to be alive and was positive about things.”

Resilience in a pandemic is a necessary superpower for patients and medical staff alike. In Viktor Frankl’s book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” he explains we have a freedom to choose how we will react in any situation. Frankl, a concentration camp survivor, wrote, “we cannot control what happens but we can control how we feel and what we do about what happens.”

Exercise when possible helps Dr. Horowitz, also watching movies with his 15-year-old daughter, while the other daughter is away at college. He has weekly video calls with his friends with whom he trained which helps. “This call is one of the good things we started during the pandemic,” he said.

A colleague friend of Dr. Horowitz’, from his University of Michigan days, posted a picture of a stairwell. Just a stairwell, and it was liked 60,000 times and shared 8,762 times. After two decades in the pulmonary field, Dr. Horowitz says, “We all know that stairwell. We have all had to take a moment in the stairwell.”

And then it is back to work with renewed courage and leadership. It helps to have intuitive Spider-Man “spider-sense” and in a pinch, when just hanging on is required, web shooting devices.

In his division director position, with 67 faculty looking to him for guidance, he says, “I need to keep my finger on the pulse of their morale because a big part of my job is taking care of my people. There is no respite. We’re the ones who have to do this. We were on the edge of a cliff for quite a while.”

 

Patricia Wynn Brown
Writer and Performer
Medicine and the Arts Board
Author: ESSENTIAL STORIES: Medicine During COVID-19 and the Lives of Practitioners at The OSU Wexner Center
patwynnbrown@yahoo.com

 

 

Stillness After the Wave

Voices in Humanism

Stillness After The Wave

“When we are hit by a dilemma in life, remember it is temporary.
We can always come back to our inner peace…our stillness.”

Nong Inpanbutr, DVM, MS, PhD
Professor, College of Veterinary Medicine
The Ohio State University
Photographer

Joyful

Voices in Humanism

Joyful

Nong Inpanbutr, DVM, MS, PhD
Professor, College of Veterinary Medicine
The Ohio State University
Photographer and Gardner

Some days

Voices in Humanism

Some days

Parents transform fear
into anger
ask me how long
I’ve been “doing this”
passerby call me “nurse”
“resident”
“hey you”
patients who want to go home
don’t
patients who demand to stay
do
I steal crackers
and deep breaths in the stairwell.

Other days
I share invisible tea
from a plastic tea cup
receive blown kisses from a boy
in a red wagon
IV pole trailing softly behind
wave goodbye to a girl
whose smile doesn’t know
what “sick” means

 

Jessica Rutsky, MD
Pediatric Gastroenterology Fellow
Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center
OSU College of Medicine Class of 2017
Vanderbiilt University Class of 2012

Wherever Life Plants

Voices in Humanism

“Wherever life plants you, bloom with grace.”
-French Proverb

Jody Glasser Sobol
Photographer
Medical Student Mom
Voices in Humanism Advisor

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