As I sit here surrounded by evacuation zones and smoke thickening the Sonoma County air, I am continuously grateful for the resilience of our community.

Our intensive care unit was the only one left open in our town during the 2017 fires. I watched with stinging eyes and breathed through shallow breath, with flames visible outside our ICU windows, as patients flooded the emergency department and ICU with burns, trauma and inhalation injuries. And of course, the usual illnesses didn’t go away. They were only exacerbated by the stress and air quality. But our staff continued to show up, with their own homes and pets gone, and their futures unknown.

Those images of strength, dedication, and immense loss fill my mind as we have not only entered another era of uncertainty with COVID-19, but also have homes and landscape burning all around us. Throughout this difficult time, I continue to be impressed daily by the dedication of all of our staff as they enter into the unknown, donned in PPE, that now keeps out the virus as well as the smoke.

More than ever, I feel grateful for the exceptional education and opportunity that I received during my time at UT Health San Antonio.  From my times in the busy trauma “pit” to learning from Dr. Johnson in anatomy class, and volunteering at the SAMM shelter and Alpha Home with Dr. Usatine, I know my experiences there prepared me to work in high-stress, high-risk environments while maintaining compassion and empathy, which are so important during these times.

Jennifer A. Walker, MD, FACEP
Emergency Medicine and Critical Care Medicine Physician
Long School of Medicine, 2009