Creative Passions Help a Frontline Health Care Worker Stay Grounded

4 min
Ameneh Moghaddam is a nurse practitioner in the Bay Area who's found a slew of creative pursuits to help her get through the coronavirus pandemic. (Courtesy Ameneh Moghaddam)

Every day after work, Ameneh Moghaddam heads out into nature with her husband and teenage son.

"Walking and hiking for our family, that's our biggest joy," she told KQED in a video interview.

Lately, she’s started bringing a camera along on these walks down by the water near her home in Benicia, a town about 40 miles northeast of San Francisco. Moghaddam snaps pictures of whatever captures her interest — birds, waves, flowers. She admits she’s not much of a photographer.

"When I see the actual nature, I feel like it's going to be that beautiful in the picture," she said. "But then I look at the picture, it's like, 'Oh, my God, this is nothing like what is actually outside!'"

Snapping and then posting her favorite photos on social media is one thing that’s helping this nurse practitioner get through her day.

"Since this COVID thing, I'm paying more attention to the beauty of the nature," Moghaddam said. "I feel like the sky is more blue."

A photo Moghaddam snapped on a recent stroll near her home in Benicia.
A photo Moghaddam snapped on a recent stroll near her home in Benicia. (Courtesy Ameneh Moghaddam)

As if risking exposure to the coronavirus weren’t stressful enough, frontline health care workers have also been facing high burnout rates from the pressures of taking care of patients in overloaded hospitals and clinics.

Moghaddam is one California nurse who’s figured out creative ways to stay grounded in these challenging times.

Her newfound photography habit stands in stark contrast to her working life. Right now, she’s spending a lot of it in a sweaty tent, sticking swabs up people’s noses.

“So I'm going to put this swab inside your nose for 20 seconds, so put your head back and relax," she said, gently coaxing a nervous patient during one of her recent shifts testing people for the COVID-19 virus. "You can do this."

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Moghaddam usually works in primary care and cardiology at Contra Costa Regional Medical Center in Martinez. She’s volunteering her time in the testing tent.

She said when she was a little girl growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution, her mom showed her the importance of putting others first.

"My mom was very involved in helping the soldiers, helping everybody," she said. "So it's kind of like, in situations like that, you feel like you have to go help."

Ameneh Moghaddam dressed in PPE for work as a COVID-19 tester at the Contra Costa Regional Medical Center in Martinez.
Moghaddam dressed in PPE for work as a COVID-19 tester at the Contra Costa Regional Medical Center in Martinez. (Courtesy Ameneh Moghaddam)

She spent her early career helping soldiers who had returned with PTSD from the war in Afghanistan. But dealing with the current pandemic is pushing this resilient professional to her emotional limits.

"Whenever I swab and the test comes positive a few days later, something in my heart drops," she said. "I'm like, 'uh oh.' I get scared every time."

We’re just starting to get a sense of the psychological impacts of COVID-19 on health care workers. In a recent Journal of the American Medical Association survey of more than 1,800 nurses and doctors in China, around 44 percent of the respondents said they were suffering from anxiety and 34 percent reported bouts of insomnia.

Moghaddam has also struggled.

"I started having these really, really bad nightmares," she said.

Her sister-in-law in Iran suggested she write down whatever’s on her mind. So recently, Moghaddam started keeping a journal. Sometimes, she writes about tough encounters with patients.

"Either I keep them and look at them later, or I just shred them," she said of the entries. "This way, it's kind of coming out of your mind."

Other times, she fills the pages of her journal with other stuff going on in her life, like what she’s up to in the kitchen.

"Cooking makes me very happy," Moghaddam said. "But it doesn't make my husband very happy, because I think we both have gained some weight."

She’s taken up baking with a passion during the coronavirus lockdown.

"Yesterday I made a strawberry banana cheesecake," she said. "My son, he likes moist chocolate cakes. So I made that last week. "

Moghaddam's college-age son, Kaveh Boostanpour, said when his mom comes home from a hard day at the hospital, she doesn’t lay on the couch or watch TV. She heads straight to the kitchen and starts cooking.

"It's a way for her to let go and release all her stress and anxiety, and put it in something that she's very passionate about and that she's very good at," he said.

Moghaddam routinely brings her homemade dishes to the Islamic Cultural Center of Northern California in Oakland.

Ameneh Moghaddam routinely brings her homemade dishes to the Islamic Cultural Center of Northern California in Oakland. She’s active in the center’s program to feed local homeless people. (Courtesy of Ameneh Moghaddam)

She’s active in the center’s program to feed local homeless people. Moghaddam said cooking and donating food gives her a sense of purpose.

Moghaddam said she plans to continue to make food for her community, take more nature pictures, and chronicle her experiences in her journal.

"A lot of sad and unfortunate things have been going on," she said. "But I try to focus on the good things. Otherwise, it's very hard for me to live."