I turned to leave.
She spoke softly, “Thank you. Thank you for coming.”
The way these words were spoken caused me to gulp a deep breath while my heart fluttered.
In my mind, I was doing my job. A physician visiting one of our COVID-positive patients in the hospital.
In my mind, I wasn’t even able to offer her human connection as I would have wished to do.
Sound: Gowned up in PPE, including two face masks, I wondered how much of my words had even been audible to this elder. She sure couldn’t rely on facial expressions, and the positive pressure COVID rooms sound like being in a loud wind tunnel.
Touch: Purple gloves between her and her visitors, with the cold metal of stethoscope’s bell as the only thing actually touching her skin.
Heart: While we did connect on who she was as a person, a woman who longed for her gospel music CDs and daily 4 a.m. pot of coffee at home, I felt the weight of her isolation of the last week. She was not allowed to have visitors due to being COVID+. Her phone didn’t make the trip with her to the hospital, and thus she was sharing space with machines and alarms and IVs and the stale confines of her hospital room.
Returning her “thank you.” Spoken from a deep place, with a loving sincerity.
It wasn’t needed or expected.
It was jarring.
It was humanizing.
It was the grandmother talking to her grandson.
It tugged for tears from an indistinct place somewhere between elation and sadness.
It was powerful.
Welcome to 2022, brothers and sisters. I am not sure about a whole lot as we turn into a third year of pandemic living. I can’t give you a decent prognosis of where the pandemic is going. No idea how much longer we will be wearing masks. Not sure if we are headed back to virtual school and work.
What I do know is that we need each other. COVID has pulled us apart 6 feet at a time, connection disfigured to the point of not being recognizable from what we knew B.C. (before COVID).
My patient’s “thank you” spoke to the need. Maybe she was in the perfect place to see how much we need each other, stuck on a deserted COVID isolation island.
Sound: Listen for those “thank you’s” in your walk this week. Listen for the people too weak to say the words. Speak the “thank you’s” to people in your life as if there is no tomorrow.
Touch: Hug someone today. Hug yourself. Unlike B.C., no one will be offended if you use hand sanitizer afterward.
Heart: Go out of your way to living “thank you” today. Love life and the precious gifts it presents.
Anthony Fleg is a family physician who blogs at Writing to Heal.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com