Life is stressful right now. Not a little stressful– like flat tire or Netflix not working. Really stressful. We are out of toilet paper, our kids can’t go to school, economic collapse is a real possibility, and we are all terrified that lurking on every keyboard, doorknob, counter space, or steering wheel is a microscopic virus that is trying to kill us.
I’ve tried to keep things here on happier topics, but ultimately that feels like ignoring the giant pink N95 wearing elephant in the room. I go to work every day with a knot in my chest. I do my job, avoid contact with any patients that is not absolutely necessary, wash my hands countless times, keep a surgical mask on when in the hospital, and try to keep a smile on my face. Honestly, in my job (fortunately) exposure is limited. Since I work in cardiology, most of my work can be done in the form of chart recommendations and caring for patients with other illnesses beside COVID-19. I’m able to limit some of the risk other healthcare providers are facing. I work with many hospitalists, ER physicians, nurses, techs, environmental service employees, respiratory therapists, and pharmacists who are at significantly higher risk than I am.
But the truth of the matter is, in limiting our exposure, there’s a certain measure of guilt. All of us are walking around with a weighted blanket of uncertainty on our shoulders and an inescapable anxiety that we might be “next.” Talking to Miranda Bailey today (again, name changed to protect the innocent), we decided that we kind of feel useless. Nurses that we care about and work alongside are staffing COVID units. ED staff are coming in doing their jobs every day, not knowing what might come in the door next, even as they face the same fears as the rest of the world. While my particular job role has limited risk, my colleagues are putting themselves on the front line. They know the risks and are dedicated to making sure that their patients are safe and well-cared for, even as they worry about the risk of transmission to their own families.
When I go home in the evenings, I’m so tired and cranky. Just the mental burden of knowing what we as a society are facing, as well as the social and economic consequences of feeling so isolated and afraid all the time, is enough to make me want to withdraw from everyone at home. My kids have lost their social interaction with friends, my husband has become a home-schooling teacher/cafeteria worker/ monitor of excessive Fort Nite use, and I have become someone who is afraid to hug, touch, or breathe on anyone for fear of exposing them to something they can’t fight off.
Last night as I was thinking about all this, I went through the pictures on my phone and came across these photos from our trip to Isle of Palm last summer. There’s always been something about the water that is calming to me. Standing with my feet in the water, feeling myself sink into the soft sand and the pull of the tide drawing me farther away from reality…what’s not to like? Any time my life gets too suffocating and overwhelming, I ask my husband to schedule our family to run away to the coast. My kids don’t particularly love the beach, and I’m not sure he does either, but we still have a good time.
In the morning, my daughter comes to drag me out of bed before anyone else wakes up, and we go walk on the beach. There aren’t usually many people out there with us since she gets up so early, and there is peace. Sometimes she talks to me about what’s going on in her head that she doesn’t feel comfortable telling me at home, the salt air and static rhythm of the crashing water giving her courage to say things out loud. We take selfies, and choose which house we would live in if money were no object, and then, because she is my child and has my neurotic tendencies, we talk about how we would protect the house from a category 4 hurricane. (I know– we both need therapy).
Since it’s not safe to travel right now, I’ve decided that I’ll spray on my Bobbi Brown Beach perfume, turn on the sound of waves, and close my eyes to escape for a while any time life gets to be too much. Pretending like I’m at the beach won’t make it better, but it won’t make it worse either. I might look like I’m stuck here with you guys, but really, if you need me, I’m at IOP.