MFA Student Writes Journal About Her COVID-19 Role

Capella Parrish’s background is in fire and emergency medical services, but she joined Dominican’s MFA in Creative Writing program because she loves to write. Today, the creative writing process is a centering and focal resource for Capella as she copes with the stress of working as a medical screener for COVID-19 patients at the Ritter Center, a nonprofit that serves low-income and unhoused individuals and families living in poverty in San Rafael. 

Capella is certified as a CHW Community Healthcare Worker, currently working with the County of Marin Health and Human Services Department. When COVID-19 spread, she was assigned as a DSW Disaster Service Worker to the Ritter Center’s community medical clinic. She has been meeting up to 60 patients in a four-hour period yet, though exhausted and concerned about the health and well-being of herself and others during the coronavirus crisis, she has managed to find time from her work to pen the pandemic from her frontline perspective in descriptive detail.

I cut my long hair because of fomites. I cut my nails as short as possible. At noon I sprayed my body with disinfectant, sat in the driver’s seat with the windows up and the AC on full blast, carefully doffed my gloves, rubbed my sweaty hands with hand sanitizer, wiped my face and swabbed my nostrils with rubbing alcohol, then rubbed my hands again with hand sanitizer and then drank a liter of water while I took selfies of the warrior pressure marks from my PPE on my face. I listened simultaneously to the news on the radio and the Zoom calls of my department’s daily updates. Whatever lunch I ate I would smell for the rest of my shift on the inside of my mask, so I ate mostly dried almonds and whatever I could find in my glove compartment.

“The patients are increasing, and currently there is a spike in San Rafael in the Canal area,” Capella said earlier this month. “The Ritter Center community medical clinic runs like a well-oiled machine. I am grateful to work for such great staff members that authentically understand the clients that they serve.”

Capella’s interest in writing piqued after reading a memoir and thinking she could write a better book. She attended a MFA program open house at Dominican.

“I fell in love with the campus, it is very beautiful,” Capella says. “I sat in on a spring MFA workshop, went home, wrote my application, and started graduate school a month later. Fast forward a year later and I was honored to receive Sigma Tau Delta and have maintained my 4.0 for my first year of graduate school.”

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Capella, who is sacrificing time in graduate school to battle on the frontlines of COVID-19, recently wrote a poem, Four Twenty Twenty, which was inspired by her PTSD surrounding the spread of coronavirus. The poem received fast submission approval.

For three months, from Christmas of 2019 until the start of the pandemic, I submitted some 100 submissions. I threw poems and prose on the wall like spaghetti ‘til something stuck,” Capella says. “This poem came out of me while I was working on my memoir. I went through a period of time where I was triggered by my post-traumatic stress disorder at the beginning of the pandemic. I was at home, and I couldn't write, I felt numb. Poetry was the needed constraint of language and emotion that made this expression possible. I started to write this poem, submitted it to my MFA group, workshopped it, revised it, submitted it and it was accepted the next morning.

The pleasure of having her poem published brushes against the grim reality of her daily encounter with the coronavirus at work. To meet low and high-risk patients to ask a series of standard Center for Disease Control guideline questions, Capella wears full scrubs with compression socks and hiking boots plus a fit-tested N95 mask, a cloth mask, a full face shield, and a neck scarf. She had her son cut her hair and she wears navy blue sweat bands around her wrists to collect the sweat that drains from her nitrile gloves before the sweat lands and dampens the patients’ paperwork Capella submits.

She works. She worries. She writes.

I noticed my desire to write and listen to my fellow writers on Zoom like a noisy bubbling creek nearby in the pocket of my scrubs on a hot busy day. A line of people needing resources and social connections to providers, their center points to the disarray of the chaos of being unhoused. I wanted to write so badly but I couldn’t. Here I am for the second time this year at my internship unable to go to all my graduate school classes even though I was hired as a graduate student intern. This is what I signed up for.

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