by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — For husband and wife medical couple Carlos and Jennifer Pacheco, there’s no hiding from the COVID-19 virus. They’re fighting it on the front lines.
And the fight is more than a little scary.
“I have prayed more during the past few months than I have in my entire life,” said 28-year-old Jennifer Pacheco, a charge nurse in the Intensive Care Unit at Providence Medical Center in Kansas City, Kansas.
She is seven months pregnant. Husband Carlos Pacheco, 32, is chief resident at the University of Missouri-Kansas City/Truman Medical Center family medicine residency.
“I am constantly asking God to protect my unborn child, to protect my husband and to protect my family,” she said.
The couple, who married last year, are members of St. John the Baptist Parish in Kansas City, Kansas. They plan to soon join St. Patrick Parish in Kansas City, Kansas, where they both grew up.
Carlos and Jennifer both graduated from Bishop Ward High School, but four years apart — he in 2006; she in 2010. They didn’t know each other at school but knew each other’s families.
“I finally got to meet Carlos at a Bishop Ward football game in 2012,” said Jennifer. “He had coached my brother Andrew the previous seasons and came back to watch a game that year. I just happened to stand next to him throughout the game . . . and the rest is history.
“I was just accepted into nursing school,” she continued, “and he was starting his medical school journey. So, we didn’t start dating for a while after we met, but we always kept in touch.”
They married, started their work at different medical facilities and began their family. Jennifer is due to deliver their first child in early July.
Like everyone else, the couple heard how a new virus emerged in China and how it later spread to Italy and other places around the world.
“You never expect something like this to happen so close to home,” said Jennifer. “I think it finally hit me when I was placed in a two-week quarantine after caring for the first COVID-19 positive patient I encountered. It was early and the nation wasn’t fully aware of the whole array of symptoms people could have. This particular [asymptomatic] patient didn’t necessarily scream COVID-19.”
Carlos was monitored by his hospital and continued to work. Jennifer was quarantined from March 10-24 and never tested positive.
“It was mentally pretty rough,” she said. “There was a lot we didn’t know, and I was pretty scared that I was going to start having symptoms throughout the first week. It was all over the news and I knew [the ICU] was shorthanded with so many people out on quarantine from just one particular case. It was pretty consuming.”
As scary as it can be to work in medicine during a pandemic, it’s what they signed up for when they decided to become doctors and nurses, said Carlos. Fear and uncertainty are part of the package.
“Early on,” said Carlos, “there was a lot of uncertainty regarding what doctors should be doing to test and treat patients, what kind of personal protection equipment we should wear, what to tell patients, how to keep our families safe and so on.
“With time, that has gotten better as more information comes out. But we still don’t have all the answers and we’re just trying to do our best with what we know.”
Jennifer returned to work at the end of her quarantine. For a while, the trickle continued.
But in early April, the pandemic tsunami hit.
“The one memory I won’t ever forget is on one particular Friday in the ICU,” said Jennifer. “We had a few patients who had tested positive, which we expected, but that particular day things just exploded. We had to shuffle COVID-19 negative ICU patients to different parts of the hospital. We couldn’t keep up with the number of patients needing ventilators.
“It really hit me that particular day that things were as bad as we saw on the news, and this was going to affect our county more than we thought.”
Jennifer’s co-workers decided to move her to a “clean” ICU with no COVID-19 positive patients, to protect her and her unborn child.
It has been a difficult time. But thanks to their Catholic faith, they’re getting through it.
“I was called to medicine because of my desire to serve others,” said Carlos.
“My faith teaches me that Jesus was a loving servant,” he added. “So, I approach my profession in that way. I know that if I focus on serving the patient as if they were my own family, then I will have done some good in my life.
“This has also carried me through the COVID-19 crisis,” he continued. “I cannot control who has the virus, if I will get it, if my family will get it, or if my patients will die from it. What I can control is how I perform my role as a physician.
“And if I lean on the gifts of service and love . . . then I can be at peace with the situation.”
Faith and the perspective of gratitude keep her going, said Jennifer.
“I remind myself that the people who are suffering are why I’m in this profession and I change my mindset,” said Jennifer. “I’m healthy and need to be grateful.
“Granted, I’ve had many tearful drives home from work, and moments asking God why we are going through this. But I return to the hospital knowing I was meant to do this.
“God granted me the compassion and the skills needed to do my job,” she added, “and I need to do make sure I’m doing my best.
“Maintaining a positive outlook and knowing that I’m doing all I can during this crisis is keeping me going.”