Dr. Jahan Fahimi

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Dr. Jahan Fahimi


COVID-19 Pandemic, 2020-; Hospital and Community;


Dr. Jahan Fahimi discusses what it was like being a doctor, public health official, and a member of his community during the summer of 2020. Photo courtesy of J. Fahimi.


Delaney Zuver
Jahan Fahimi












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May 15th 2020 to August 30th 2020

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Laney Zuver [00:00:13] My name is Laney Zuver, and you're listening to another interview from my project, 2020 Summer Stories.

Laney Zuver [00:00:20] This interview features Dr. Jahan Fahimi. Dr. Fahimi Spent his summer in San Francisco, California. We touch on his experience as an E.R. doctor and other elements of his experience over the summer.

Dr. Fahimi [00:00:34] I'm Jahan Fahimi. I'm 40 years old, I live in San Francisco, California, and I've spent pretty much the entire summer in... In my home in San Francisco. So starting in May, you know, time doesn't really seem to matter anymore. But I think in May, you know, for the most part, in California at least, we had realized that we were sort of inside this flattened curve per say, that like everyone was trying to achieve. And we had sort of with respect to the sort of global pandemic had, we're realizing that we were going to get away, at least for the time being, relatively unscathed compared to like other major cities. But we also felt as though part of the reason for that is because we live in a place that's sort of so aggressively embraced public health and this sort of we're in it together communal approach to to addressing the pandemic that the sense was like we're just going to hunker down for as long as we can stay separated for as long as we can and distance as much as possible so that we can continue to keep our community prevalence of covid down. And, you know, it's probably right around the same time that, like most, at least for myself, I kind of realized, like, wow, the arc of this what we're trying to do here is seemingly like never ending. Like there's a long time horizon. I think, you know, in January, February, and certainly like in March, the thought was, OK, we need to shelter in place so that we can, you know, get past this. But I don't think anybody really asks the question of like, what is like how long is this going to be going on for like what is the what's on the flip side of this? And so in May in particular and sort of through the summer, we realized like, oh, it's actually not a really finite time period. It's actually like there's a long time horizon and the end point is something different. It's like herd immunity through probably through vaccination. And so at least for me, I think part of the challenge there was, you know, I alternate between just complete fatigue from trying to isolate and distance to... toward... I also between that and like just recognizing that this is what it is and it could always be worse. And we're going to we're going to get through this. I think as the summer moved on, there was a lot of discussion for, like what's going to happen in the fall. And I think, again, when the shelter in place happened and like schools got canceled, I don't think anybody was thinking toward the fall, like no one was thinking that far out. But for me at least, that I quickly realized, like, OK, you know, we're going to go into the fall and people will assume certain things are going to happen, that kids are going to go back to school and, you know, communities are going to open back up. And all this kind of stuff with the virus will have like gone away because the summer months and whatnot. But I kind of had the feeling that, like we weren't very well prepared and that that may not be our reality. And so as the summer wore on, I think it became more and more obvious to folks that schools weren't going to open, that we weren't going to go back to, you know, like the virus is not just going to disappear with the summer. And so. You know, for myself and my family, we we just sort of like kept going. We kind of put our heads down and realized that, like, we're going to do our small part there are plenty of people that are like, just as fatigued as we are and they are breaking with what public health would, you know, recommendations are. People were like taking some liberties and starting to travel and seeing each other and bigger gatherings and all that kind of stuff. And there's a lot of tension or there's a desire to sort of do the same. I guess it'll be fine if we could we can travel or we can we can see more family. We can get together with people. But every time we sort of flirted with that, I sort of came back to this principle of like, well, look, we have to do our part. If we can keep our community transmission down, the sooner we can sort of open it up for everyone so that I think, you know, proved to be hopefully the right answer. And I think a lot of people in San Francisco and on the West Coast did the same thing. There were certainly a lot of people who didn't. And there were, you know, sort of one off experiences where there would be like small little clusters or outbreaks or surges. And we did have a little mini surge in in in August. But again, I think people by and large out here follow the science, follow the recommendations. And once again, we sort of made it through relatively unscathed. And here we are, you know, past the summer and into the fall. And I get the sense that people recognize, like, this is just the kind of the the way it's going to be. We did this, like, really aggressive shut down. And now we're doing the sort of delicate dance where you have to continually be thoughtful and vigilant about your movement and behaviors to prevent further further outbreaks. So I guess I'll give my description of of the summer. It's like alternating between fatigue and a commitment towards what needs to be done. And I think that most people in San Francisco felt at least somewhat similar and that that has proven to be, for the most part, a reasonably good strategy.

Laney Zuver [00:06:39] Dr. Fahimi made it clear that he was proud of his community and the way that they embraced guidelines. So I wondered, how did he feel seeing so many people in other parts of the country that, in my opinion, were thinking individualistically rather than collectively?

Dr. Fahimi [00:06:54] Well, I mean, in some ways, like from a selfish standpoint, it makes me proud to to live where I live because, you know, I think it's validating that I live in a place that has like leaders that follow science and leaders that really try and put together policies that maximize community benefits for everyone. Right. And so, like a lot of our policies take into consideration not just what's best for the whole population, but also what's best for some of the most vulnerable populations in our community. And I feel proud about that, watching other states and their reactions to all of this and intermingled with our entire sort of political climate and the politicization of science, I don't know. I guess I feel like weirdly detached from those places. Obviously, we're detached insofar as like people aren't traveling like they used to.

Dr. Fahimi [00:07:58] So we don't have this, like, ease of travel back and forth between, let's say, you know, California and Florida that might have existed pre- covid, but watching, like, sort of the culture unfolds and some of these places watching news reports of, you know, what's happening and surges and whatnot, you almost feel.

Dr. Fahimi [00:08:21] Like, even more detached from them, like it, it's like watching something that's not even real and there is definitely a sense of like... Competition is not the right word. You just feel very divided. Right. Like, I don't even feel like I'm in the same country or you have to sort of be reminded that, like, this is all part of like one government. So... And then mixed in with all of that is like I have. So I and I work in the E.R. and I went to medical school in New York. And early on in March, you know, a lot of my friends and colleagues who still live out there, you know, lived through the worst of it.

Dr. Fahimi [00:09:01] And so for me, like watching places just kind of like fully ignore what it's like and experience, you know, within the same country like unfold and having, like doctors and nurses tell the story of, like, how this went horribly awry in certain places.

Dr. Fahimi [00:09:22] And to have people just sort of say, like, I don't care or I don't believe it, I feel detached from from those people. I'm proud to be where I am. And there's definitely a part of me that, like you put all that together. And I and I feel like. Kind of angry towards people, I'm like kind of pissed off and the challenge with that is there's so much division in our in our country and in our politics and whatnot. And, like, I'm falling prey to that also. Right. Like, I'm just sort of like, OK, I'm going to be I'm going to focus on, you know, my family, my community, my immediate area and screw those guys over there. And that's that's obviously not good. I got... You know, when I when I confront that sentiment, I realize it's not the right sentiment. Right. We are part of one country. I obviously want the best for everybody. I don't wish ill on anyone. I want, you know, cases across the country to go down. Obviously, like something is not connecting with that group of people out there. And we need to figure out a better way to communicate to them. But my my visceral sort of emotional reaction is to just sort of like, well, you know, you're going to get what you deserve. So, yeah,.

Laney Zuver [00:10:40] I then asked him how his job as an E.R. doctor changed during the covid-19 pandemic.

Dr. Fahimi [00:10:46] My job changed substantially, like the job is much more exhausting now, like I don't get to just kind of like roll into work with, like, you know, a scruffy beard and not, you know, and just kind of like move through the hospital and sit at the bedside with patients. And, you know, like now I'm under, like, multiple layers of PPE. I have to be clean shaven. I mean, my mask fits and makes a proper seal. The N-95 masks that we wear are like extremely uncomfortable. And I wear it for like eight hours straight with, like a surgical mask on top of it, which is just it's exhausting. You know, it diverts a lot of our attention away from, like, things that we were focused on doing and fixing within health care with our hospital or around patient care and focuses entirely on like how do you you know, how do you practice medicine in a in a pandemic. Right. So, like, we have to divert a lot of our attention towards towards covid. And that comes at the cost of doing other things that we really wanted to do for our patients and health care in general. And so obviously, there's a cost there. And, you know, just as exhausting as it is. Just living through all of this and, you know, going to the grocery store, like with the mask on and, you know, not being able to go out to dinner in the same capacity like life is just more exhausting, more like work is. Prices decreased because there's more things to do, and when you're here, it's a lot harder. And then you get to like on top of that, you get to live with this anxiety of like, am I going to get sick by going to work, which was definitely much worse early on. And as time has gone on, we felt like, OK, at least our PPE has worked. Right, like we've kept ourselves relatively protected. So that's good. But, yeah, I mean, it's it's still a challenge. I can't appropriately physically distant from the hospital. Right. I can't stay six feet away from everyone at all times. And so I find myself wondering, like, you know, could... am I exposing myself? The only saving grace in all of that is that San Francisco in general has done such a good job of keeping community prevalence low. But that is probably the most protective thing we have going for us. Right. Like the likelihood that someone else that I'm working alongside has covid is low because it's just not as common in the community. So that's protective and that's that's reassuring. But when I take care of a covid positive patient, like being in their room and doing procedures and that kind of stuff, like. You know, the constant anxiety of like, does my mask fit right into my face shield on correctly and, you know, like trying to make sure you don't self contaminate yourself with your hands and gloves and all that kind of stuff, like it's exhausting. So it's like it's death by a thousand paper cuts is what it is. It kind of feels like.

Dr. Fahimi [00:14:07] So that's what it's been like from like working and how things have changed,.

Laney Zuver [00:14:13] Related to the first question I asked of his role as a doctor influenced the way he felt about the rest of the country's response.

Dr. Fahimi [00:14:20] Yeah, I mean, in some ways, I sort of think there's a certain aspect of this, and I don't want to take it the wrong way. But there's a certain aspect of this that's kind of fun, which is like, you know, I you know, I went to public health school and so I have a masters in public health and, you know, I work in an E.R. and in some ways I'm like, cool.

Dr. Fahimi [00:14:43] This is like this is kind of what I'm trained to do, right? Like respond to a public health emergency, take care of patients that are potentially really, really sick and like build systems that will figure out how to like triage people and test people on screen people and get them proper therapies. Like there's a certain intellectual side of all of this that's like really fun. And I think that if you push a lot of people who work in ERs or ICU or infectious disease units or stuff like that, like they would agree, like this is an interesting challenge. Now, obviously we would prefer not to be living through it because it's exhausting, it's that, you know, people are dying it all the things that I've mentioned, all the negatives. But if it had to happen, there's a part of me that's like, OK, this is this is where I'm geared to, to do. In fact, when the outbreak was really bad in New York, I was like, I've got to find a way to go work out in New York.

Dr. Fahimi [00:15:46] Like I'm attracted to, you know, like a moth to the flame, like I'm going to go towards where the greatest need is and ultimately didn't go because it couldn't free up my time, because of family and, you know, like multiple competing interests. But if I could make the decision in a vacuum, I'd have been there in a heartbeat. Right.

Dr. Fahimi [00:16:05] So there's there's a certain angle of it that's sort of fun. There's also the other sort of, I guess, quote unquote, fun part of this, which is like most doctors like to teach, we we like maybe some of it is like ego or, you know, arrogance or I don't know. But like, we always feel like, oh, cool.

Dr. Fahimi [00:16:28] If I know something that other people don't know, I would like to, you know, I'd like to educate them. I like to opine on on a particular topic that I feel like I might be an expert at. And some of what's been interesting is like learning about this pandemic in real time, reading like studies or talking with colleagues and then translating that into something that I can impart to my friends or my family or, you know, in some cases, you know, a ton of like media interviews. And so, like, you know, local news or national news where they're like, we want an expert to talk about about this. And that sort of scientific communication piece is actually really kind of fun and not something I'd done like a ton of before and definitely like learned like there's a right way to do it in a wrong way to do it. Those are sort of like some of the upsides of a lot of this that, you know, if there was a bright side.

Laney Zuver [00:17:30] I asked about some of these dos and don'ts, what had he learned through his process of providing public information?

Dr. Fahimi [00:17:37] I think the wrong way to communicate is the.. So so when you get, like, asked a question doing what I'm doing right now, which is just sort of like rambling on, nobody wants to hear... Hear this.

Dr. Fahimi [00:17:52] And I think if you try and pack too much information into a sound bite, it... It goes horribly awry.

Dr. Fahimi [00:18:02] Right. Like if you if you try and communicate too much science, people don't understand it. And so I think the key is really focus in on like what are two or three key things that you want to get out and distilling them down into a really easy way to communicate it. And repeating yourself. The other sort of wrong thing is to is to like speak too generally, you know, you want to have your facts right. You want your facts to be like fairly specific and you want them to like support, like I said, like one or two concepts that you want to get across. So that's been like what I have learned in terms of communicating scientific, you know, facts around this.

Laney Zuver [00:18:49] I then shifted gears and asked how, if at all, his political opinions changed over the summer.

Dr. Fahimi [00:18:55] You know, I'm not sure that it's changed much, to be honest with you. I think all of my my political opinions have more to do with, like, what's happening in politics rather than what's happening with the global pandemic. I think I think if there's one thing that I like, I've always felt like this concept of like a global pandemic was like an inevitability, like essentially every public health program out there where like if you take a course, we'll talk about like, OK, that's going to be a virus. You know, some virus mutates and kind of like the movies. And so that has always been something that, like, I kind of knew was going to happen. And I always felt like it's important that we have some public health preparedness stockpiles and appropriate PPE and all that kind of stuff. So that's like this is probably, if anything, just reinforced that sentiment. But I don't think it's necessarily changed my view of politics. I've always sort of felt the way I feel about, you know, how things should be.

Laney Zuver [00:19:58] Then I ask the question. I've asked a majority of my participants, what media was he consuming this summer?

Dr. Fahimi [00:20:04] So probably the best source of information was from work, you know, just constant, you know, meetings with my colleagues who worked in different areas throughout the hospital as well as hospital leadership. And, you know, we would have meetings with the Department of Public Health. And so that was a really powerful source of information, because not only are you like getting the information, but you have the capacity to kind of like crowdsource it with really smart people at the same exact time. So that was really great. I think the the next best source of information, honestly, like I was not that much of like a social media user prior to this, but now I've started using Twitter a lot more. And it's because I've picked and choosed who to like, what to follow and who to follow in a way that like when I get on Twitter, I can get sort of real time, like what's the latest scientific study based off of, you know, the five or six people that I really respect whose opinions I think matter the most. So I can I can look at the study that they're referencing and I can read their interpretation of it and distill all that. And a lot of times I'll sort of pick and choose from different experts on Twitter. There are some people who are two or three times a week will put together like a whole summary of a particular topic. And I can sort of go through those and it's like it's all referenced out so that you can go find the original source as well. That, to me, is that also very, very valid.

Laney Zuver [00:21:39] I ended the interview by asking for his final thoughts.

Dr. Fahimi [00:21:42] I take every opportunity to remind people to get their flu shot. That's about it.

Laney Zuver [00:21:46] OK, perfect. So this will be an eternal reminder that will exist on the Internet.

Dr. Fahimi [00:21:51] Yeah, exactly.

Laney Zuver [00:21:56] Thanks for listening. Be sure to check out more stories at Woosterdigital.org/2020summerstories.


Delaney Zuver and Jahan Fahimi, “Dr. Jahan Fahimi,” 2020 Summer Stories, accessed December 6, 2022, http://woosterdigital.org/2020summerstories/items/show/6.

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