Ask Meredith (Burns) Brauer, M.D. '01 about spikes during her time at Marquette and her infectious vigor can all but transcend one back 21 years ago to Noblesville High School Gymnasium, site of the Blazers' first of nine volleyball state championships.
Mention spikes today, and the two-time state champion-turned-doctor will greet it with a pregnant pause and an apprehensive exhale.
In her eighth year at Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield, Illinois, Brauer is in the midst of what she describes as the most challenging point of her entire young career. Her intern year (2009) coincided with the swine flu pandemic. COVID-19 is proving to be an entirely different animal.
"None of us could have anticipated something like this. We're flying by the seat of our pants," Brauer said.
Brauer credits much of where she is to her parents, Dr. Stephen and Marian Burns, and the Catholic education she received from tyke to twenty-something. She matriculated to Marquette from Notre Dame Elementary School. The Michigan City native went on to earn her bachelor's degree from the University of Notre Dame before graduating from medical school at Loyola University Chicago.
She was a roadrunner on 10th Street, excelling in the classroom while embedding her prints on the volleyball and basketball courts, as well as the theatre, which bears the name of her late grandfather, Rudy Hart.
"Meredith had an obvious musical talent that she inherited from her grandfather. She is the type of person who is just so genuinely kind and nurturing. Her parents were always some of our greatest supporters and both she and her brother were integral parts of the Marquette theatre program," theatre director Amy Crane testified.
As a junior, Brauer amassed 76 kills and 75 digs as she helped Marquette lay the groundwork for an eventual monopoly on state finals appearances during the 2000s. The Scholl Center was but a hard-hat zone, however, the school spirit was uncontainable.
"Being a part of the first volleyball state championship was an amazing experience. The way the school came together, being at the highest level of competition - it's an unforgettable memory," she recalls.
Like most high-performing students, Brauer emphasized the importance of time management and establishing priorities. The lessons she learned in the classroom - both technical and big picture - came from the likes of Linda Milzarek and Sue Meer.
|The Brauers _L to R__ Eric_ Beau_ Adeline_ Audrey_ and Meredith|
"Linda Milzarek was such a generational teacher. She taught my parents, then me, and has since become a friend. English teacher Sue Meer was an important influence. Without her class, I would've floundered [at Notre Dame]. Pumping out a 10-page paper was no big deal because of her class. Because of those teachers, college was a relatively easy transition. I knew how to study, how to do the work, yet still enjoy the college experience," she said.
All the fond memories feel like a lifetime ago pinned against the backdrop of the current pandemic and the grim realities of our nation's biggest health crisis in a century. She lauds her Catholic education for outfitting her with the empathy that works hand-in-glove with patient-focused training.
"Yes, we're scientists, but putting that into the perspective of the Catholic faith helped me avoid some of the dehumanizations that can come along with medical training," said Brauer, who can observe differences in doctors' bedside manner.
Like most medical professionals tending to COVID-19 patients, the isolation from loved ones is what sticks most with Brauer. The only contact allowed is with doctors and nurses donned in gowns, masks, and goggles.
At Central DuPage Hospital, the staff is preparing carefully for a second surge. The facility has two dedicated COVID units. During the initial surge, the staff was able to accommodate 100 patients, most of whom were critical care. Being a part of the Northwestern Hospital system has been a blessing as access to ventilators and PPE were procured almost immediately.
Her empathy shines through when she speaks about the current state of affairs.
"There's a person attached to every number, every data point. People have to be diligent about what they're doing and who they're putting at risk," she observed.
When asked about the potential of a readily-available vaccine in 2021, Brauer was optimistic. The medical community must weigh the risks and benefits of getting an approved treatment method in a short amount of time, but with multiple vaccine trials underway, she hopes that the U.S. will have a couple of treatments available next year.
Until then, she echoes the advice so many of her colleagues have prescribed since March: maintain social distancing, conduct hand washing frequently, and wear a mask when in public.
"It's a matter of respect, and the quicker we can do that, the quicker it will be to a point where this is under control," she says.
Meredith and her husband, Eric, have three children: Audrey (6), Adeline (2), and Beau (2). Eric, the former director of athletics at Marquette, is currently a physical education teacher and baseball coach at Lincoln-Way East High School in Frankfort, Illinois.