Rock climbing outside, especially trad climbing but a few sport routes and boulders as well, is a place of peaceful aloneness for Dr. Rebecca Jaffe: healthcare worker. Dr. Jaffe started climbing at the
UPenn Climbing Wall when she came to Philly for med-school, “The manager there at the time, Paul Haraf, was super psyched on outdoor education. He really turned the wall into a
community. Drew was a part of that community and that’s also where I met Rory. I stayed there for residency so I climbed there from 2003 to about 2011.” This was also how she found outdoor
climbing, “I started climbing inside but the driving desire became going outside. In the meantime, we all did our day jobs and met at the gym in the afternoon.” Before the COVID-19 pandemic, you might have seen Dr. Jaffe at Tufas Boulder Lounge. Nowadays, her job at Jefferson leaves her with little downtime, not to mention, y’know, the Stay At Home order. Over the weekend, Dr. Jaffe took the time to talk to Tufas about climbing, working from home, and being a doctor during the COVID-19 pandemic. After reading the interview head over to our GoFundMe for Dr. Jaffe, her team, and her patients!
Tufas: What can we (Philadelphians) or/and we (Tufas Boulder Lounge) do to help you in your work?
Dr. Rebecca Jaffe: If you aren’t an essential worker, stay at home, and maintain physical distancing! Healthcare workers are most worried about the possibility that the number of people
needing medical care will exceed our resources. The paradox is that if we do this right, it will look like an overreaction. Sadly, for public health officials, it may be a lose-lose situation. If
they underreact, it’s catastrophic. If they react appropriately, then they’ll be criticized that they were too aggressive because it “wasn’t that bad.” That would be a fundamental misunderstanding
of the goal. So just remember – if it doesn’t seem bad, we are doing something right!
Tufas: And in the meantime?
Dr. Rebecca Jaffe: We flatten the curve. Outside of staying home, small ways to show your appreciation do matter a lot. But I go to work so you can stay home and stay safe. My sense is Philadelphians are taking this seriously but at the same time, I know there are people that are not. At the end of the day, staying at home is the most powerful tool we have.
Tufas: You started climbing at the University of Pennsylvania climbing wall?
Dr. Rebecca Jaffe: The manager there at the time, Paul Haraf, was super psyched on outdoor education. He really turned the wall into a community, and that’s where I met Drew and Rory. I
was at Penn for medical school and residency so I climbed there from 2003 to about 2011. I started climbing inside but the driving desire became going outside. In the meantime, we all did
our day jobs and met at the gym in the afternoon.
Tufas: And that’s where you met Drew and Rory?
Dr. Rebecca Jaffe: Yeah! They were a part of that climbing community. They would also sometimes set or work at the wall, and moved from there to running programs at Temple and
Drexel before opening Tufas. For me, as a medical student, the wall brought together a really great group of people from different fields and parts of Philadelphia. Climbing is a fascinating
mix of the physical and the mental. It’s a problem-solving pastime – it forces you to integrate the reality of the problem in front of you with your own physical capabilities. I think a lot of really smart people climb for the problem-solving part of it, and there is a lot of philosophy to climbing as well. Climbers have to understand risk, and individually grapple with big issues like fear, trust, and uncertainty. In climbing, you have to make decisions while actively assessing the situation. You need to move through risk. Even deciding to bail on a climb is an active decision – it’s really just a change in the plan, and you have to keep moving. I think this is especially true in trad climbing and multi-pitch climbing, but it’s part of sport climbing and bouldering too.
Tufas: Have you found any parallels between being a rock climber and being a healthcare provider?
Dr. Rebecca Jaffe: Yeah! In normal times, a lot of being a doctor is about being a problem solver. Coming up with the right diagnosis is a lot like finally solving a boulder problem. Healthcare is also inherently risky – Patient Safety is a whole field. I gave a lecture to med students called “Everything I learned about Patient Safety I learned from Rock Climbing.” Now during the pandemic, one of the parallels between being a climber and a healthcare provider is managing personal risk, and that’s new for a lot of us. Everybody who works in healthcare is balancing their own dedication to showing up and taking care of people and the risk that they might get infected, either because of their work or just because they can’t stay home like everyone else. From food service employees to doctors and nurses to sanitation workers – we are all thinking more about our own safety.
Tufas: We always say “climbing is inherently dangerous.” but now it’s more like, “going to work, or to the grocery store, is inherently dangerous.”
Dr. Rebecca Jaffe: For me, climbing provided a foundation and practical experience with doing something risky. But at the same time, climbing is fun, and so you want to do it anyway! That
means you need to become an expert in managing the systems that help keep you safe, and you need to manage emotions. It’s a lot harder to place good gear when you let your fear or anxiety
take control. The same is true now with the pandemic – there are systems we need to perfect, and we need to manage a lot of new and complex emotions. In outdoor trad climbing you have your
partner check your set up, you have a checklist. At the hospital you’re putting on and taking off your PPE in a systematic way – with a checklist and a partner. Going to work even when you’re afraid – it’s also like climbing. You aren’t afraid because you’re unprepared or unprotected – but because the situation can’t ever be 100% safe.
Tufas: How are you holding up?
Dr. Rebecca Jaffe: Today – fine. I’m very concerned about the general mental health of healthcare providers through this whole episode. One of my concerns is seeing a mass exodus of
people in the field. The news talks a lot about ventilators and the fear that hospitals will run out of them. They’re an exhaustible resource. Well, the mental health of providers is also an
exhaustible resource too.
Tufas: Is there a lot of anxiety?
Dr. Rebecca Jaffe: The preparation I’ve seen in Philadelphia and at my hospital has given me confidence to think that maybe we will be okay. Having time to prepare has helped with the
general level of anxiety of the pandemic, and we’ve been lucky in Philadelphia that we’ve had that time. That’s what “Flattening the Curve” means, by the way. I’ve taken steps to take care of
my own mental health – because the potential amount of stress and anxiety and fear is just something out of the ordinary.
Tufas: Not to be all doom and gloom – how has your life stayed the same?
Dr. Rebecca Jaffe: Work! It’s nice to see people I’ve been working with for ten years, and I’m really proud of how we are all responding to this. We’re all colleagues. We’re a community and
we’re all in this together. Just the other day after work, a co-worker who lived nearby and I shared a bourbon. She was on the sidewalk and I was on my porch.
Tufas: Have you been doing a lot of Work From Home?
Dr. Rebecca Jaffe: Between shifts I’m lucky to be able to do a lot of my work from home, though sometimes I am on call in case somebody at the hospital has to go into quarantine. The
culture in hospitals isn’t typically to call-in sick but with the pandemic, you know, you have to stay at home if you have a cough or a fever. Beyond taking care of patients directly, my job
involves designing systems to improve care and keep patients safe – so that work is even more important with current stresses on the healthcare system and a new unknown disease.
Thankfully, I have an amazing husband who is basically managing homeschooling for our two kids.
Tufas: What’s making you happy this week?
Dr. Rebecca Jaffe: The weather! It’s nice that it’s not rainy and terrible. It’s nice to get outside and get any exercise I can. My colleagues at work are a real source of support and joy. And my
kids! Working from home is pretty nice because I get hugs every morning.
Tufas: Dr. Jaffe, thank you for taking the time – and thank you for everything you do!
Dr. Rebecca Jaffe: You’re welcome!
Z. Kudratov edited this, among other things. They’re an imported Philadelphian with a soft spot for public transportation, public radio, and the PMA