Missoula surgeon talks about frontline struggles as COVID cases rise

Posted at 8:52 AM, Nov 16, 2020

MISSOULA — While COVID-19 rages on in Montana, healthcare workers continue going to work in person, meeting with patients, and trying to get our communities back on their feet.

MTN News talked with a physician in Missoula who says at this stage of the pandemic, challenges like quarantine are making her job even harder.

It's been eight months since the first COVID-19 cases were reported in Montana and by now, the COVID fatigue has set in for most.

We do everything we can to take our minds off of the virus that's uprooted our lives, but for one industry, ignoring the pandemic isn’t an option.

“It's day in and day out, looking down the hallway, seeing the nurses and people who normally don't work in clinical areas pitching in and helping out and donning their PPE and going into these rooms and taking care of people,” said Dr. Angela Pallesi of Community Medical Center.

A general surgeon for the hospital, Dr. Pallesi’s area of expertise may not be infectious disease, but COVID, as we’ve learned, knows no boundaries.

“People with COVID still get appendicitis and bowel obstructions and other normal health problems, so that's where I have been taking care of COVID patients,” said Dr. Pallesi.

Her day-to-day responsibilities as a surgeon, with another layer of stress due to COVID care, are only made harder when her colleagues are forced into quarantine. Right now, 39 staff members fall into that category.

“Capacity to us at this time really is more of a patient to staff relationship.”

With lower capacity, the hospital has had to bring in backup. Facilitated by a local agency, CMC now has additional staff from out of state. While the help is necessary and greatly appreciated, Dr. Pallesi said that doesn’t make it any easier for those quarantining.

“It can be very distressing when you know that your colleagues are at work, and you have to quarantine at home and everyone else is here working hard,” said Dr. Pallesi, “It can be difficult for you, but it's important that we keep each other safe.”

Dr. Pallesi is one of the hundreds who work at Community Medical Center. Each person faces challenges like hers day in and day out. For that, she said it’s hard to see those in the community who don’t take the pandemic seriously and jeopardize the work her team is able to do.

“It’s absolutely frustrating. You know, it's simple, and it's not a major life change to be wearing a mask. It is a major life change to be staying away from friends and loved ones, and I totally understand that," Dr. Pallesi said.

"But it's crucial that even if you know that you're somebody who may not get very ill or you don't care about yourself getting ill, it is important that you're protecting the community at large and of course your loved ones, because you may be spreading the virus before you even know you're sick," she continued.

Dr. Pallesi said one easy, but helpful way you can get Montana’s numbers down, is to avoid high-risk situations, whether that be a crowded bar or even a large family gathering.

Her final message to the community is one of care. Pandemic or no pandemic, she said, "I want to remind people that we're still here for them."