“Where does it hurt?”
As a child, I can remember this ubiquitous question being frequently asked of me. Having grown up on a farm, there was always some trouble for me to get into. A common hazard was my older sister’s 26-inch bicycle, which had no training wheels.
At age 5, if I was to be a “big kid,” I had to master the art of riding the “big” bike on our gravel driveway. It was inevitable that I would fall off with the result of skinned-up knees and blood dripping down my legs. As tears flowed down my cheeks, I would run into the house, and my mom would only have to glance in my direction and know exactly what hurt and needed her immediate attention. Mercurochrome and bandaids to the rescue.
As we get older, it’s not always an easy task to say where it hurts. When we were young, if we had a bump or a bruise, a parent might simply kiss the source of pain to make it all better. Sometimes, it did surprisingly help. But as our lives move along on their journeys, with their twists and turns, our response to this question becomes more ambiguous.
At times, we find ourselves bombarded with troubling circumstances: a cancer diagnosis, a faltering heart, our aging parent given a diagnosis of dementia. There may be no easy answers or solutions.
We rely on our faith and the skills of our medical professionals to help us navigate the hazards placed before us. The world, especially during these times during the COVID pandemic, has been turned upside down.
Lockdowns, isolation, and masking became major components of protecting ourselves and those we love from contracting this sly killer. As vaccinations were developed and distributed among the population, the feeling of despair began to slowly lift away.
However, this time of stress and anxiety left its indelible mark on our minds and spirits.
A deep rift formed in America — it separated those who believed in the science of the COVID vaccine and those who did not. Say what you want, but it can’t be denied that vaccination has saved lives.
COVID has taken several forms since it first hit our shores. Mortality and hospitalization rates have diminished since the onset, but the latest version, the BA.5 variant, has proven to be a formidable opponent. This version, as we know, is spreading rapidly among the population.
Vaccinated or unvaccinated, it seems to not significantly matter in terms of contracting the disease, although the severity of the disease is somewhat lessened when the individual has been vaccinated.
As someone who has tried to live as normally as possible during these past two-plus years, I still lie awake at night wondering what will be next. “Where does it hurt?” is the question I posed. I am not able to point to a physical location within my body, but instead, I feel the pain emanating from my heart and spirit. My confidence in my country, in my world, has been shaken. Loved ones lost, life experiences altered, time never to be reclaimed. My trust has been shaken.
Normal — what does that term mean? It certainly doesn’t mean to me what it meant five years ago. Normal now means dealing with the hand we are all dealt because of COVID and trying to make the best of it. To move forward into what has to be called “unchartered” waters as we await what is to come next. The monkeypox virus or an undiscovered variant of COVID. A feeling of restlessness, exhaustion, and emptiness is almost palpable. I wish there were medicine or a “kiss on my forehead” that would resolve these feelings, but sadly no.
In the words of one of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver: “I want to think again of dangerous and noble things. I want to be light and frolicsome. I want to be improbable, beautiful, and afraid of nothing as if I had wings.”
And so, I offer my prayers to my Lord to bring me comfort and to guide me on my journey. For Him, all things are possible.
To all who work in health care — physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists, etc. — I can only imagine the distress you have experienced:
- Trying to fight a faceless enemy while placing ourselves continually in harm’s way
- Being present as the lives of your patients slip away, despite your best efforts
- Exhaustion as the pandemic continues and evolves
- A feeling that your best efforts go unnoticed by the public you serve and the health systems which employ you
- Trying to see the “light at the end of the tunnel” seems to be getting farther and farther away
Please do not lose hope or the belief that your life’s work does not matter. It most certainly does. Be aware not only of the narratives of your patients but also of your own. Care for yourself so that you may care for others. Find joy and comfort from those who hold you close to their hearts. Go out into the nighttime sky and look upwards to the heavens and the shining stars that burn through the cloud cover. If you listen carefully, you will hear the inner voice within you, giving you the wisdom to continue. God bless you all.
Michele Luckenbaugh is a patient advocate.
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