Math was never my favorite subject. However, I was lucky to have good teachers who took the time to help me navigate through high school math and graduate with a final A grade. As I struggled with numbers and equations, calculus and fractions, I was told by one particular teacher to remember the five Ps of math: pen, pencil, paper, patience, and practice.
As of writing this, more than 11 million Americans have tested positive for the coronavirus, and close to 250,000 have died from it in a relatively short period of eight months since it first hit our shores. At the end of March, the U.S. had about 188,000 cases of COVID and has had an unprecedented rise since then to greater than 11 million. Despite that, we are not anywhere near the peak. Scientists, epidemiologists, and doctors predict a ”dark winter” and a ”COVID hell,” unlike anything we saw even in spring. Dr. Sanjay Gupta of CNN calls this one of the most severe humanitarian crises he has seen. And he has witnessed it all, including the famine of Somalia, where severe drought and inept leadership led to a quarter-million dead, half of which were children!
As a physician living and working through this novel coronavirus pandemic, I come home at the end of the day and sink into bed with severe trepidation. I see the devastating toll this is taking on health care workers, especially those at the frontlines and in the ICU. I often think about how I can help myself and others cope better and continue to be of service to our families and communities.
I decided to apply the same principles of the five Ps that I used to study math to this pandemic. As these are extraordinary times, some additional Ps are warranted, so I have a total of seven. So without much further ado, here they are:
Pen, pencil, paper.
Writing things down for me is always a way of releasing stress and going through difficult times. Taking a pen to paper is highly satisfying, and putting down a few words or phrases every other morning, such as in a gratitude journal, can be cathartic. Even just making a to-do list and crossing things off as they get done gives me a sense of control over something when there are so many other things I cannot control. I am currently trying to incorporate some self-care in that list every day.
Patience. This virus will not be leaving anytime soon, and as much as we are all tired of continually masking and social distancing, we will have to continue that for a while. Even though Pfizer/ BioNTech has just announced a highly effective and promising vaccine, patience is needed in large amounts as the situation will worsen before it gets better. It’s going to take time till the vaccine is widely available. Someday soon, there will be light at the end of the tunnel, but we have to be willing to give it time and effort and continue to be patient. However, I am not advocating an iota of patience for anti-maskers, COVID deniers, and conspiracy theories propagators.
Practice. I know time for all of us is limited but practice something. Whether it is new recipes and creating healthy meals, soups, and smoothies in your kitchen or practicing meditation or an exercise routine. Whatever you decide to pick up, put aside a little time and practice, and get better at it. It could even be perfecting a new skincare regimen or improving in your professional life by reading or doing some practice board review questions. Not as fun but necessary, and very satisfying.
Politics and public health. One of the most important lessons I learned is that politics are important. The people we choose to elect to office play such a vital role in our lives, our children’s lives, and the lives of our future grandchildren. I never took the responsibility of voting lightly, but this pandemic has taught me that it can be a matter of life and death.
Public health and policymaking are deeply connected, and as a physician, I ignore one at the peril of the other. Doing so can seriously compromise the health and safety of the very people we wish to protect and our well-being and the lives of our loved ones.
People who want to open up the economy without consistent public health measures need to realize that the economy needs healthy people for it to run.
We need the return of good public health. We need the production of PPE with the same intensity as our war defense activity. We need health grade masks provided to all at-risk in our communities, and we need widespread education campaigns on proper mask-wearing, stay at home mandates, and safe ways to practice any social gatherings. These campaigns need splashing across public billboards and the airways. We need more and more testing and precision contact tracing. We all want to ”coexist with COVID,” but as safely as possible.
Positivity and post-pandemic life. It is hard to stay positive when we look at the numbers of positive tests and deaths from COVID-19. It is even harder working in the hospitals and seeing them overrun with COVID 19 patients. It is incredibly difficult watching people die in front of your eyes of a highly preventable disease, a disease mostly avoidable if everyone just wore a simple mask correctly. I try to connect with positive people, but I don’t want to listen to people who downplay the reality that we are facing and disregard what got us to these offensive numbers in the first place in the name of positivity. There is too much suffering in physical, mental, and economic terms.
However, we can dare to hope now that a vaccine is in sight. We can make some tentative plans for 2021. We can expect to meet, and dare I say, hug our parents and grandparents again. We can dream of traveling also, of zoom free celebrations and felicitations. We can begin to heal the human spirit that thrives on touch and in-person social connections. We can start to imagine rebuilding our lives and economies.
Will we still be masking and social distancing to some degree? I suspect so and hope that we will continue to do so for another year or two even after the vaccine is available. That would be prudent to do until a sizable population is vaccinated and immunity is guaranteed. The bottom line is to continue masking as is done in many Asian countries, especially during the cold and flu season.
Let’s look to the future with hope as we battle the grim COVID reality that is today.
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