From a woman who lost five years of memories to historic wildfires to, oh yeah, the coronavirus, these are the biggest medical stories of 2020.

It’s been a big year for de facto Health & Wellness writers/editors in Oregon, with two of the biggest medical stories of the decade inadvertently colliding. The pieces that have emerged from this year’s coronavirus pandemic and historic wildfires have been unnerving, upsetting, baffling, complicated, and inspiring.

With the help of Google Analytics and the determination of our dogged staff writers, we’ve put together a list (in chronological order) of this year’s biggest medical stories. 

This Oregon Woman Lost 5 Years of Memories

First up, a story that precedes the coronavirus epidemic. Fiona McCann’s thoroughly interesting account of a baffling phenomenon. “In 2014, Sarah Swenson caught the flu. Or so she thought,” the piece begins. “By the time she got to the emergency room, she had lost 20 years of her life.”

We learn later that Swenson developed “low-grade meningitis,” and while most of them returned, Swenson lost about five years of memories. What happened?

The Oregon Doctor Who Sounded the Alarm

The early days of the pandemic were weird. Still are, but it was decidedly weirder when no one really knew what was safe, what wasn’t, whether we should stock up on PPE or save them for medical professionals only. Should we close schools? Should we close bars and restaurants? Sometimes it just takes a push in the right direction from the right people.

Enter: Maxine Dexter, a critical care and lung physician at Kaiser Permanente in Portland, who penned an open letter to Oregon Gov. Kate Brown in March, which was signed by more than 400 Oregon doctors. News editor Julia Silverman got the inside deets, and we all learned a lot.

On navigating long-distance relationships amid the coronavirus pandemic

Love In the Time of COVID-19

I’ve been dubbed “Feelings Editor” and here’s what I believe started it all: a first-hand account about navigating long-distance relationships amid a pandemic. In this piece, I talked with Oregon State University professor Regan Gurung about cultivating our relationships, practicing patience, and helping each other through an unprecedented pandemic, advice which, as we reach the end of the year, seems more potent than ever.

Fun fact: my partner and I are now living together. So take that, coronavirus.

Does Vitamin C Help Protect You Against COVID-19?

It’s an earnest question, and so our own big boss editor in chief Marty Patail tried to find out. Back in March he talked with Alexander Michels, a research associate at Oregon State’s Linus Pauling Institute, who has spent 20 years studying how vitamin C affects the body, about the effectiveness of everyone’s favorite cold cure on the coronavirus.

The answer is … complicated.

A New Start-Up Aims to Teach Us about Our Breasts and Vaginas

Not everything this year has been about COVID. Earlier this year, Fiona McCann talked with Kaitlin Christine, a local women’s health care advocate who is the driving force behind the Portland-based Gabbi—a site aimed at making women “the experts on their bodies.” Her vision includes a cancer risk calculator, an action plan, community forums, a product marketplace, and videos on topics from performing a self breast exam to how to insert a tampon.

We’re glad this important story didn’t fall through the COVID cracks.

Coronavirus Takes a Heavy Toll on Minority Populations, Oregon Data Shows

The pandemic has been hard on everybody, but it’s been particularly hard on communities of color, as Julia Silverman reports in this piece from May. According to Multnomah County public health officials, communities of color account for more than 40 percent of those who have tested positive for the coronavirus, and are more likely to be essential workers, especially in health care and agriculture, and not able to telework and safely quarantine at home.

A fascinating and frustrating data piece that highlights the importance of health equity.

The Future of Health Care in Oregon Is Virtual

For years, virtual care—which comprises various remote-healthcare technologies and services including telehealth apps and virtual visits via smartphone, tablets, or computers—has played a fairly minor role in the US’s trillion-dollar healthcare industry. Now, providers on average are seeing more than 50 times the number of patients via telehealth than they did before. The shift hasn’t necessarily been easy, however.

This piece from July looks at telehealth, how we got here, and where we’re going.

What If a Vaccine Comes to Oregon and No One Gets It?

One of the saving graces of our cruel coronavirus reality has been the not-so-far-away hope that a vaccine will be discovered, and our lives will return to some sense of normalcy. The nation's Operation Warp Speed, a billion-dollar initiative to find a coronavirus vaccine, all but assured as much. But what if scientists make a vaccine, and only half of us agree to get it?

Julia Silverman explored this question in this piece from September and revealed some startling data along the way.

Thinking About Leaving Portland to Escape the Smoke? You’re Not Alone.

As if a global pandemic wasn't enough, Oregon and the West Coast experienced a historic wildfire season, which burned more than one million acres of land in the state. The resulting smoke, ash, and debris, for a hot second (no pun intended), gave Portland and the surrounding area the unenviable distinction of Worst Air Quality. And that really impacted our health.

This piece by Portland Monthly intern Morgan Westling talks a little bit about that and features interviews with people looking to get the hell out of Dodge.

The Clinical Research Institute of Southern Oregon in Medford. 

This Medford Clinic Is Developing a Coronavirus Vaccine, and You Wouldn’t Even Know It

The race to save the world is in … Medford? Yes, it’s true. I took a trip to Medford back in October to talk with Dr. Gregg Lucksinger, medical director at the Clinical Research Institute of Southern Oregon, which is working on two—that’s right, two—coronavirus vaccines. Lucksinger talked about how his experience at an Ebola treatment unit in Liberia is helping aide him and his crew in their work on the Moderna and Novavax coronavirus vaccines.

I also had one of those infamous Medford pears while I was there, but that’s beside the point.

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