For the first time in history, a pandemic has shut down the entire globe. COVID-19 has affected our lives in many ways, including significantly impacting health care services. Many people, sensing an unseen danger looming in the air, have become increasingly afraid to visit their primary care physicians, and we are now discovering the catastrophic consequences of this delay.
As the COVID-19 pandemic stretched into the late spring months, the ACGME made the recommendation to hold all residency and fellowship recruitment for the 2021 Match cycle virtually. At University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center, preparations began.
In the pandemic’s wake, we witnessed the explosion of viral social media content such as Plandemic, an alternate exaggerated narrative which sought to perpetuate the types of claims one would expect from the title. These kinds of conspiracy theories have always existed in many different shapes and forms; however, COVID-19 struck at a time when society was suffering from a pre-existing condition of deep mistrust.
No one had told her how difficult the fight after COVID would be. Of course, few in her community had lived to tell the tale. And then again, precious few people had expected her to survive at the ripe old age of 86.
“Hello? Can you hear me?” Tightly holding the phone, I heard only an old man’s distant yelling and the shattering of dishes being thrown against the wall.
My husband Tom isn’t afraid of anything; strapping on a bulletproof vest every day for work will do that to a man. Tom wasn’t scared until I couldn’t breathe.
“The United States reports first death from COVID-19 in Washington State.” It was the end of February as I glanced over this news alert. For the past month, my inbox was flooded with emails regarding the COVID-19 outbreak. I saw my patients as usual throughout the day, albeit washing my hands and using hand sanitizers more often.
In the first two months of 2020, I watched with alarm as a cordon sanitaire descended on Wuhan. I lived there as an anthropologist completing my research on Chinese medicine in 2017. Friends from Wuhan — most of them doctors — were suddenly describing scenes out of a dystopian nightmare.
When the COVID-19 alarms were raised, I got ready for battle against the virus the world was fighting, only to later feel cut off from “the cause” as my efforts to volunteer outside of my daily work were denied time and again. Some might call it luck, but for me, it felt isolating.
Has social distancing paradoxically made us closer? Can disease be tragically beautiful? I pondered these questions as I reminisced over the past few weeks working on one of the medicine floors in my hospital, grappling with these thoughts almost every moment as I have witnessed the world respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
My own experience has felt a bit like wading through a swamp of hysteria, grief, misinformation and lack of leadership (locally and globally) while attempting to find clarity in the mire. This has unintentionally prompted me to re-evaluate my own toolkit of coping mechanisms and the ways in which I can maintain my own semblance of sanity. Whether you are feeling overwhelmed, anxious, scattered or even just bored, listless, or helpless. I hope that one or more of these cognitive approaches can be helpful.
When I found out I was going to be deployed to treat patients with COVID, I dealt with a lot of existential dread. I remember feeling like I was leaving medicine behind when I matched to a psychiatry residency, and again after I finished the medicine portion of my intern year.