A dear midwife teacher of mine, during my intern year as an OB/GYN, told me, “You need to stop wearing those rose-colored glasses.” She told me I had to take them off to be able to understand the depth and breadth of what my patients were telling me, so I could read between the lines and become a well-trained clinician. In the years that have passed since my first year of training, I kind of listened … I learned to read my patients and to manage them clinically, but I kept those glasses in my pocket for the days when I needed them most.
The world today is facing a nightmare that none of us could have imagined. Loved ones are falling ill. Many are dying alone as their families and friends grieve, without the opportunity to say a final goodbye. Many are jobless, homeless, or furloughed, living their day to day life, wondering whether there may be food on the table the next day. The world has moved indoors. Many are terrified to go out, lest they bring an unwelcome guest, this virus, back home with them. Meanwhile, the medical and scientific communities have been working day and night to manage care for patients, and to help find a solution to this problem.
These days, my mind keeps wandering to shoulder dystocia maneuvers, postpartum hemorrhage, and uterine inversion protocols. I keep wondering what life must have felt like for my predecessors in obstetrics and gynecology. Long before we had textbooks outlining the medical protocols we take as fact and gospel today, what was their life like?
Our new reality has begun to answer my question. I know they must have felt fear. Fear, as they entered an abyss of managing the unknown. Fear, as they tried to anticipate every possible outcome from every possible intervention, without the safety net of tried and proven science and experience. Fear that the lives we hold in our hands could suffer, because we simply do not have the answers yet.
I know they must have worked tirelessly to find those answers. They must have worked in teams, brainstorming solutions, sharing successes, and failures. I know they must have risen in the morning with fresh ideas. I know they must have fallen asleep at night, second-guessing themselves, and making plans to work harder, faster, better the next day.
Unlike my predecessors, my struggles today come with a unique twist. I cannot bring a shoulder dystocia home to my children, but COVID-19 is something I can bring home. Many in health care have not seen their families in weeks. Almost all of us have a loved one we worry about, who fits the definition of a “high-risk patient.” I worry about my children, one of whom has a series of medical problems. I worry about my “healthier” child. I worry about my husband, my parents, and in-laws, my siblings and siblings in law, my nieces and nephews, my friends.
But that does not stop me, or any of us, in health care.
I became an obstetrician and gynecologist because I love taking care of women through all stages of their life. I love being there for their happiest moments. More so, I love being there for the hardest moments of their lives. To talk to them through their darkest days, to alleviate some worries, to make them smile through fear and sorrow – that is my passion. It is a part of my being.
My rose-colored glasses are my secret instrument for survival. When the days and nights are at their scariest, when I am most anxious, my husband reminds me, “You are always overly optimistic — do not forget that.” So I put on my rose-colored glasses. I see the peaceful blue skies above. I hear, and I can truly listen to, the birds chirping on a bright spring day. I watch my two boys play and scream with joy outside.
At the hospital, I hear the code blue calls overhead on our COVID units. A sharp pang of pain hits my heart. I say a prayer for the patient and their family. I put on my rose-colored glasses, and I see that their suffering will not be in vain. Their loss will give us more strength, more determination, to work harder, faster, stronger, to help any others who are affected during this pandemic.
At the office, I talk to my expecting and postpartum mothers. I see the fear and anxiety in their eyes. I run 30 to 45 minutes behind, trying to address all of their concerns. At home, I realize how drained I am from these encounters. But then I put on my rose-colored glasses. I see the mothers who I have delivered during the pandemic, whose deliveries have been so peaceful and quiet. They no longer have a barrage of visitors to entertain in labor. It is just them and their support partner. I see my postpartum mothers, who are happier today than the mothers I have cared for in my past eight years of being an OB/GYN. The stay at home directives have given them the undivided help of their partners, and maybe one other loved one. They do not have to struggle to look perfect for guests two days postpartum, while sleep-deprived and exhausted. I see relaxation, as they finally can focus on healing and on their families.
You can call me optimistically naive. Maybe I am. Naivete, however, does not equal ignorance. I do know very well that the world is hurting. Indeed, we are all hurting. I know we will all face more challenges in the days to come. I have simply chosen to look at the world today through the lenses of optimism and hope.
I do still allow myself to grieve, to hurt, to cry. But when the moments are the most challenging, I have chosen to put on my rose-colored glasses. If you try them on one day, maybe some silver lining will begin to shine through for you too.
A. Rauda Tellawi is an obstetrics-gynecology physician.
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