I stare at the sharply rising line in front of me, its stark outline harshly highlighting the data–data that shows that we are in the midst of yet another surge. That graph haunts me, intruding upon my thoughts, hovering at the edges of my life. I hold my breath, not knowing when this sly encroacher will become an intruder that will disrupt the normalcy of these last few months, a normalcy I had lovingly cultivated. As friends and family got their shots, as my seven-year-old lined up to receive his vaccine, I dared to have some hope.
Suppose hope was the feeling that defined those sweet early summer months where we seemed invincible after our vaccines, where restaurants and stores opened up, where we saw friends and family. In that case, a despairing resignation surely defines these coming months.
As that line continues to rise, both my personal and professional life collapse. I am forced to cancel surgeries. My husband, an infectious disease physician, is asked to do extra shifts as his colleagues contract COVID 19. The infection that seemed avoidable previously now seems inevitable, given how contagious the new variant is. The routine of my carefully crafted life falls apart like a house of cards, battered repeatedly by a tiny spiked battering ram.
Our childcare collapses yet again when we are notified that there was an exposure in my four-year-old’s daycare. My husband and I discuss who would stay with our daughter. Whose job matters more? The infectious disease doctor during a pandemic, or an obstetrician who knows that babies don’t follow any timelines? In a household of two essential workers, who is more essential?
Life has become upended as the wave of the pandemic washes over us yet again. Nearly two years into this pandemic, it feels surreal that the same questions and worries I had in March of 2020 persist, with little improvement in the situation. Our life remains subject to the availability of testing, reliant on people to do the right thing and get vaccinated, and dependent on the whims of politics and mask mandates. Why is that childcare remains so uncertain? Why do we not have enough testing to confirm cases? Why do I drive to work every day, holding my breath, fearful of the inevitable day when the virus will invade our house and touch our lives yet again?
I go to bed and awaken with the same thoughts I have for the last two years: will I get COVID? Will someone I love get COVID? Will my children still be able to go to school and daycare? Will I still be able to work if there is another shutdown and the kids are home? I imagine myself rendered as a two-dimensional drawing by one of my children. My edges are drawn with a red burst of anger, but the inside of me is filled with the blackest of sorrows. I am angry, but I am also sad. Sad that so many colleagues have left health care or are burnt out, because we work in a system that benefits neither the patient nor the provider. Sad that so many mothers have left the workforce because we live in a society that hints to women that we can be either professionals or mothers, but not both. Sad that people are so skeptical of science that they would rather die in isolation than get a life-saving vaccine because science has been politicized. Sad that we must bear witness to the terrible choices that people make while providing compassionate care for them, because health care providers at our core cannot extinguish the flame of empathy that propelled us into this career.
So we go on.
So I go on. I hug my children, drop them off at school, drive to work, take care of my patients, text my husband to see who will pick up the kids. I struggle to maintain a semblance of normalcy in a world that may never revert to normal. And I watch. And what I see is that over these last two years, the pandemic has exposed the fault lines in our society, and yet we have done little to repair the challenges brought to the surface. As the national paid parental leave bill falters, I realize that mothers remain forgotten. As we fight to maintain the Affordable Care Act, I realize that the health care system remains broken. I feel helpless because there is so much wrong in this world that I cannot correct. But I go on because I must: for my patients and for my children.
I go on.
Huma Farid is an obstetrics-gynecology physician.
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