March 11, 2020. The medical school officially made all classes remote until the end of the semester. Tom Hanks and his wife have coronavirus. The NBA is suspended; Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert has corona. Travel to Europe is suspended. The renal midterm can be postponed if you choose. Not going home anymore. I don’t want my parents to get it because of me. I had to cancel Spain. What are the people experiencing abuse going to do? What about people in rural areas with no hospitals close by? A whole year has passed in one hour.
On March 12, I told my parents I would not be coming home for Spring break. A few days later, my mom, out of genuine fear, asked me, “Priyanka, do you really want to be a doctor? Do you really want to go through with this?” At the time, I laughed, but they were such valid questions. The amount of helplessness I felt was surprising to me, but this experience pushed me even more to continue on this career path.
Since I decided not to travel, I chose to thoroughly enjoy my Spring break. This was easier for me because I am an introvert, and I needed to replenish my fuel tank after a crazy week. I cleaned my apartment inside out, organized my clothes, pampered myself, read a lot, and more. I treasured this time even though it was in the middle of a pandemic because, ironically enough, I felt like I was starting medical school afresh after a tough start. Although it may seem like I was in a bubble, I was still keeping up with the news, my friends, and my family. Constantly, I reminded myself of how fortunate I was. I was safe, my parents were safe, we had a roof over our heads, my loan interest had decreased, I could order food whenever I wanted, and I was living a pretty similar life. This was not the case for everyone, and for that plus more COVID never was nor will be “the great equalizer.”
For the next two months, my journal pretty accurately recounts the ups and downs of my thoughts as I attempted to make sense of everything. Reading articles of doctors being “deployed” and their day-to-day on the frontlines was hard. It was harder when health care professionals started passing away due to COVID. On the one hand, the community was clapping for the bravery and service of healthcare workers, but on the other hand, health care workers were being treated as dispensable by not getting the proper PPE to their jobs safely. That was heartbreaking.
A huge struggle that I processed internally was speaking up about the misinformation floating around. I always thought that a majority of people believed science as truth; I soon realized that was not the case. I had to learn how to effectively communicate with people about coronavirus because they were looking to me for answers. I started learning how to meet people at their different levels of understanding and emotions during a time where information, opinions, and feelings were constantly changing. Part of it was communicating that I didn’t have the answers. It was frustrating, but I learned a lot. I eventually consulted a dean at my school about this level of communication, and he told me, “seek to understand, then be understood.” I keep that in the back of my mind at all times.
I decided to finally visit home. My parents treated me like a microorganism in their home for the first few days, which was an all-around weird and funny experience. I was in my routine trying to finish out the school year, which was just two weeks away. Then, George Floyd died. You know how they say you’ll never forget where you were or how you felt when you hear life-changing news? I can create the perfect picture of when 9/11 happened when I found out I got into medical school, when a family member had an emergent medical case, and when I learned about George Floyd’s death.
May 27, 2020. Disgusted. Traumatized. Stunned. I have pages and pages of journal entries of my anger, my reflections, and my fears. I believe that the time we are in with COVID-19 — people at home in their thoughts and people of all backgrounds directly feeling the injustices of the system — has forced many to actually start listening and internalizing what the Black community has been saying for hundreds of years. It’s going to take a long time, but new conversations are opening up, and that is hopeful.
June 5, 2020. Finished the first year of medical school!
The first 100 days of COVID made me confront and reflect on a lot of aspects of myself and life, as philosophical as that sounds. Often times, I’m exhausted talking about COVID every single day and frustrated because we should be in a much better place right now as a nation. The wound is still fresh, and it deeply hurts to see more people suffering due to a lack of proper health care infrastructure and guidance as an underlying cause rather than the virus itself. I remind myself to be mindful, be kind to myself, allow myself to feel whatever I want without holding back emotions, and stay present. Emotional ups and downs are a part of life, but how you process them matters. It has also given me a glaring reminder that life is not guaranteed. It has reminded me that medical school is only a facet of my life, and the rest of my life is happening now. So why do we say, I’ll do that after I’ve reached “X” stage in my life? Within reason, just do it, and you won’t regret it.
Writing this has given me a lot of peace and clarity, and I hope whoever is reading this can reflect on their experience to gain some level of calm.
Priyanka Shindgikar is a medical student.
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