I’m a cardiology fellow on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Like many, I know suffering. In 2017, I lost my father to rapidly progressive dementia. I was postpartum at the time, and he did not even know I was ever pregnant. My stepfather — my father since I was eight years old — the only man who appreciated me and celebrated all my uniqueness and success, passed away almost exactly a year later.
During this time, I’ve been training in the field of cardiology in the South, and, as far as I know, I am the first African American female to be in the program. Despite all of this, I’ve been privileged to be part of a community that knows suffering very well: the African American community. Over time, I have picked up lessons through quotes and songs that help me keep, keepin’ on.
I know why the caged bird sings
The book title is, of course, from the great Maya Angelou (Auntie Maya as I called her). During this time, we are prisoners of our own suffering. Auntie Maya also gifted us with a great quote to help set us free. If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Each individual has the ability to be mentally free and enlightened even during these times. For the rest of it, you can give it away to the atmosphere or a higher being.
This too shall pass
All moments that lead to great suffering will eventually end. The African American community has been through much hardship, including 300 years of slavery. Despite this seemingly endless institution, this quote has been passed down. We keep going because if we cannot make things right for ourselves; things will be better for our children and the future. The African American community knows hardships do eventually pass. We WILL get through this.
Always and forever
Many people have lost those they love, and it hurts deeply. This pain is intense and will take much time to cope with. One thing that has helped me deal with great losses was to believe that they are not really gone. Sometimes I laugh when I think of how some of my responses are shaped by my stepdad, or how my medical journalism is an homage to my biological father. All those who have left their body, are not completely gone. They’re here, always and forever.
When you’ve done all you can, you just stand
This is from an incredibly powerful gospel song by Donnie McClurkin. Some of us may feel we aren’t doing enough. There is a way we do not have to feel this way. To feel empowered, be the best you can be, for the sake of others. Then, once you have done all you can, you just stand. If your orders are to stay home, then do so. If you must be at the frontlines or support those who are, then take pride in this as much as possible. If you feel that being at the frontlines is too much of risk towards your family and you cannot do so, you’re still doing all you can.
Lean on me
This song by the late Bill Withers really says it all. Lean on me, when you’re not strong; I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on. Just call (or Zoom) on me brother if you need a hand, we all need somebody to lean on. These words are most important during this period of social isolation. We can still lean on one another, even if it is virtual.
Keep ya head up
Child, things will get a little easier when the world is much brighter. We humans are all in one community fighting together. To escape the cage of despair, please keep in mind these valuable mantras that have helped me, even still as my husband and I face this virus in the hospital. We know that this shall pass, and we need to hold on. Meanwhile, try to laugh and smile; keep your heads up.
Mary Branch is a cardiology fellow.
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