From the Baseline to the Front Line: Peter Reyes
The COVID-19 pandemic has produced much uncertainty across the country, but one thing it has unequivocally reaffirmed is our respect and adoration for the many officials and health care providers dedicating their lives to keeping others safe. In our series From the Baseline to the Front Line, we honor members of the USTA Eastern community who also happen to belong to that heroic group. Here we speak with Peter Reyes, a tennis player who is also a physical therapist and Director of Rehabilitation at the Cypress Garden Center in Flushing, N.Y.
What can you tell us about your experience on the front lines of this pandemic?
Reyes: I work in a nursing facility with some rehabilitation and long-term care residents. In early March, things started to get a little bit surreal. We closed the facility to all visitors and nonessential staff—it was basically a skeleton crew. And despite that drastic measure, people started getting sick or fearful of coming to work. Suddenly we were met with staffing challenges for many reasons. I had to have the therapists I supervise, who are trained in doing rehabilitation and exercises, modify and adjust their approaches to effectively care for the patients and residents. Then, my therapists were getting sick as well and I was thinking, “What is going on?” Not only was I taking care of my acutely ill patients, but I was also looking out for the welfare of my staff. After work, I would swing by their apartments and bring food, medicine and just generally check up on them.
What was it like to deal with a potential COVID-19 cluster so early on?
Reyes: We had limited amount of PPE [personal protective equipment] and we needed to be creative with the equipment we had at our disposal. We also had a very limited understanding about the virus, so we had to educate ourselves. We followed the CDC and the Department of Health. But their guidelines changed every minute. First they’d tell us to do this, and then they’d tell us to do something different. Even the government agencies were trying to figure it out. [Because of the staffing shortage], I had to convert myself from being a Director of Rehab to a front line staffer. I’d feed my patients, try to get them out of bed. As a physical therapist, I know that I can help by mobilizing them—the more a patient sits in a chair or lies in a bed, the more likely they are to get sicker. My five-day work week turned into a six-day work week, and then into a seven-day work week. I'd start a shift at 6 a.m. and wouldn't get home until after 9 p.m. It was really the peak of the pandemic, and it was very stressful. But I thought, if I feel this way, imagine how these patients feel. They are “confined” in a facility [just like everybody] battling loneliness and devoid of social interaction from the outside. [That's why] I incorporated FaceTiming their family as part of their plan of care. I wanted them to know that even if they felt disconnected from the world, we were still there for them. My passion is rehabilitation, especially with the geriatric population. I’m very fortunate to serve these patients. Some were living their last days, and they needed a better quality of life.
New York was undoubtedly hit the hardest by the pandemic, but there is a sense that the city is—for now—past the worst of it. Cases, while still high, have trended down, and some areas are starting to reopen. Have you felt that trajectory yourself over the last few months?
Reyes: It has gotten better, definitely. I would say it was very stressful from March to about mid-May. But we’re still shut down to all visitors. We’re still not letting our guard down. Even the rehabilitation gym is not accessible to the patients. We have to be creative with our programs and therapy interventions. Flushing at one point was a really big hotspot. We don’t want to go back—we’ve done so much to get to where we are.
How did you stay mentally and physically active during such a stressful situation?
Reyes: There were some weekends where I would get home earlier, and the playground where I live in Sunnyside, Queens was still open. I’d go and hit a tennis ball against a wall. It was 50 degrees but I’ll take it! I would bundle up and hit as much as I could. It made me feel a lot better. I also did some shadow swinging in my living room while on Zoom with friends. I’d be like “How’s my stroke, has it gotten worse?” [Laughs]. That also helped. I’d also go to sleep with the Tennis Channel on. Just the sound of the tennis ball going back and forth…that was a lullaby to me during those times.
You’re clearly a massive tennis fan—how did you first get into the sport?
Reyes: I didn’t really pick up a racquet until 2008. But it’s become my passion—outside of being a physical therapist. I liked it so much that a few months after [starting private lessons], I bought my own tennis ball machine. I would go to a park at 4 a.m. There are no lights on a tennis court at 4 a.m., but there are enough street lights to see. I would hit with my tennis ball machine until 6 a.m. when the courts opened. This was obviously not allowed. [Laughs]. That’s how crazy I am about tennis.
When did you first start playing competitively?
Reyes: I started playing competitive tennis with GLTA [Gay and Lesbian Tennis Alliance] in 2011. Then I also started playing in USTA tournaments and in USTA Leagues. At one point, from 2012 to 2014, I was racking up about six tournaments a year with the GLTA. It was a very fun time—you really meet a lot of nice people all over the world. I really felt a strong sense of community. In addition to picking up a racquet late, I came out later in life, so I didn’t have many experiences being gay or being a tennis player. Combining those together—it was such a major thing for me.
What do you love most about the sport?
Reyes: I love the fact that it’s not just physical. There’s a mental side to tennis. I love that you’re on your own, and you have to find a way to solve the problem. That is so unique compared to other sports. It really tests your character, your decision making. That’s kind of what life is about: At the end of the day, you’re going to have to figure it out on your own.
USTA Eastern thanks and proudly supports health care professionals for their service. If you know somebody in the USTA Eastern community who should be recognized in "From the Baseline to the Front Line", please contact us.
More Front Line to Baseline:
Alex Aksanov (physical therapist in Brooklyn, New York)
Simon Gorwara (head of cardiology at a hospital in Poughkeepsie, New York)
Rajiv Jauhar (head of cardiology at a hospital in Manhasset, New York)
Michael Lampa (pharmacist in Huntington, New York.)
Jason Pasion (hospital volunteer on Long Island)
Shyam Shivdasani (private practice in New Rochelle, New York)
Cidric Trinidad (nurse in East Elmhurst, New York)
Oksana Yakoff (nurse in Teaneck, New Jersey)