A few months ago, I quit social media. It was absolutely the right decision for me – I needed my time back. So many little moments of beauty and consideration get skipped when my brain follows one feed after another and loses track of time.
But every now and then, when I have ten minutes to kill, I will check-in. Usually, I go right to a group of women physician equestrians I am part of, or a pediatrician mom group, or physician writers. Sometimes a post I am “tagged” in, and less often, my randomly presented friends’ posts.
Last night, before I clicked away, photos of a baby shower popped into view. Startled by the vision of so many people packed together for a group photo, indoors, maskless, I could not help but feel my heart sink. While the mom-to-be looked radiant, I could not help but feel terrified for her. And then angry. And then confused. Do they still think COVID isn’t real?
Taking a step back, it’s true that most people do fine with COVID. They will survive and not even have lasting effects. How I envy them their confidence! I cannot be the only clinician feeling like Cassandra, warning of danger others don’t seem to see. Wanting to be right and not-right at the same time. Feeling left-out of the opportunity to gather with other people and be silly and carefree. I was invited to the baby shower. We all knew I wouldn’t go.
It’s hard to sort through the feelings these pictures brought up. Months ago, when it became clear these were people who would insist on their facial freedom even in the grocery store, I felt hurt by their rejection of medical advice. Then angry: that my friends are people so selfish as to not think of others’ vulnerability when deciding not to wear masks. Frustrated that reasoning made no difference. Sad that our friendship may never recover from the rift in point of view. Intrigued by the confidence they project, and perhaps their greater acceptance of mortality. But no, I cannot accept making that decision for others. It isn’t knowledge that drives their decision; it’s faith in something wholly outside science. They simply believe themselves invulnerable.
Here’s the bitter pill: They might be right. Because I wish them well, I hope they are. But my pride wants them to be a little bit wrong, too. Most of all, if I am honest, I feel envy. Wrapped in our obligation to know as much as possible, we clinicians surrendered our bid for innocence long ago. I simply cannot suspend knowledge and go enjoy a baby shower, or a Christmas party, or even dinner with friends. Some days practicing medicine gives me wings. Sometimes it feels more like a cage.
I have spent decades trying to marry spirituality and science. While you can always gain more of both, the problem is the science can never be unlearned.
So the only way forward – as it always is, with grief – is acceptance. We cannot control what people choose to believe, and we can’t deny what we know. They are living in the best way they know. So am I. It’s not about being right or wrong; it’s just sad we can’t be together right now. Life is humbling to all of us. Hopefully, we will come together on the other side.
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