Anslem Opitoke, MD '92 battles against COVID-19 in the Washington epicenter

 Opitoke

 Opitoke

Anslem Opitoke, MD, CMD
Class of 1992
Geriatric Physician
EvergreenHealth Geriatric Care
Kirkland, Washington.

 

In retrospect, it was not a typical day in my geriatric practice when I saw a young- appearing Octogenarian for mild respiratory issues in March 2020. Beside him was his very supportive wife of almost 65 years trusting I will provide a resolution. He was diagnosed with novel coronavirus-related (COVID-19) respiratory illness and later succumbed to its complications. Unfortunately, my community became the epicenter of a growing pandemic, thrusting clinicians into the frontlines. As an internist, geriatrician and hospice/palliative care physician, I knew COVID-19 pandemic was changing the landscape of healthcare in the most vulnerable geriatric population.

Suddenly, families could no longer visit their loved ones who were dying due to COVID-19 related illnesses because of the elusive nature of the disease course and limited protective equipment. I realized that required personal protective equipment (PPE) exacerbated the fears in my geriatric patients. Simple restorative gestures such as a smile, kind touch and an attentive lean forward during patient care were masked behind the PPE.

For the geriatric patient survivors of COVID-19, my team and I were faced with the daunting task of transitioning their care safely into the community. Understandably, many rehabilitation centers were not accepting patients until after an “acceptable” duration.

Guidelines for COVID-19 disease were changing frequently or interpreted loosely based on resource availability creating a challenge in the care of the elderly patient. I was inundated with calls from patients living in senior housing to clarify guidelines from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The high mortality rate in the elderly who contract COVID-19 caused all community senior facilities to institute “shelter-in-place” measures before it was statewide. My colleagues and I quickly noticed an exacerbation in preexisting mental health issues, caregiver stress, delay in essential care, isolation and loneliness and overall “deconditoning” (generalized weakness). In spite of all these new challenges presented by the novel coronavirus pandemic, serving the elderly as a geriatric physician has been a rewarding vocation.

Villanova Preparatory School helped me on my journey by providing a very strong academic foundation and a very diverse community for personal growth. I felt very prepared academically at the University of Southern California and acclimated seamlessly to student life. I worked for a few years in biomedical research before attending medical school in England with an emphasis in tropical medicine. My love for geriatric medicine, was fostered by geriatric physician mentors and working at the Cambridge Nursing Home as an auxiliary nurse in the United Kingdom.  After completing the United States Medical Licensing Examinations, I matched at University of Pittsburgh for postgraduate training in Internal Medicine leading to a fellowship program at Thomas Jefferson in Philadelphia, PA. I was fortunate to be able to expand my training and obtain a certificate in Hospice and Palliative Medicine at my first job in the Greater Boston area. I saw my role expand to include educator responsible in training medical residents, nurse practitioners and physician assistants.

Seattle my home and community, like many around the nation, is under siege by a virulent pathogen. The medical community is resolute in the efforts to combat this pandemic and continue to advocate for all especially the vulnerable geriatric population.