“Dark times lie ahead of us, and there will be a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right.”
– Albus Dumbledore
After Voldemort’s return in Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire, the students of Hogwarts are faced with much fear and uncertainty. Suddenly a future that many had envisioned – progress through school, graduate, find a job – was no longer as straightforward as it once was. It feels remarkably similar to what our world is experiencing as we rally for a war with an enemy we do not know much about. Grief, fear, and uncertainty – many of us will likely have felt these same emotions in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. Dumbledore’s words helped guide the Hogwarts students through difficult decisions during the Second Wizarding War; perhaps they can also guide us in facing real-world challenges during these dark times.
The idea of “the right path is not always the easy one” is nothing new. However, it is an important concept to remind ourselves of during this time of “social distancing,” when people are told to stay at home in an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19. Much time and effort have been devoted to spreading this message, yet we continue to hear of groups that ignore the call – from large groups of students partying in the streets on St. Patrick’s Day to people who simply refuse to alter their normal routines. This shows how easy one’s wants and desires can get in the way of choosing the right path, and I admit they are often difficult to suppress. Indeed, self-isolation brings attention to the small gifts that we took for granted – hugging, seeing people’s faces, going for a coffee – that are suddenly not accessible. These are not easy things to give up.
As someone who was in self-isolation for a week, I experienced what it was like to not have these small luxuries. Despite being able to talk to my friends and family through video and text messaging, it was not the same. Activities that kept me well – such as going to a café to study or having a board games night with my friends – may be trivial compared to what others are facing, including unemployment and entertaining children at home, but they were harder to give up than I imagined. The temptation to go out was strong – I felt well, and it would be so easy to just pop over to my favorite coffee shop and get a latté. This social isolation was compounded by a sense of guilt that I was at home while my friends and co-residents were out fighting on the front lines. Yet I am reminded that this is the right thing to do, for my patients’ and my colleagues’ safety. Before this is over, there will likely be many more health care workers placed in mandated quarantine, but I think it is important to remind ourselves that protecting others is just as important as treating patients.
Within the hospital, there are additional challenges when it comes to doing what is right. I am certain that most, if not all, of my colleagues have anxiety about getting sick from COVID-19 and spreading it to our loved ones. It is not an easy task to go to work each day with this sense of fear, especially as the number of cases continues to rise, and we start admitting patients with COVID-19 to the hospital. Some of us, myself included, may feel apprehensive about caring for patients with COVID-19 – there is much we do not know about this beast. However, I imagine that health care workers at the forefront of the HIV/AIDS pandemic and SARS epidemic must have felt the same way – they knew very little of the mysterious diseases they were facing. And yet, they marched forward. This duty to care is the very principle of why we are in medicine; caring for these patients may be difficult and poses risks, but we must overcome our fear of the unknown in order to do right by our patients.
In Harry Potter, Voldemort’s return sparked fear throughout the wizarding world, much like COVID-19 has in ours; but just as the students of Hogwarts banded together, so must we. I anticipate that the following weeks will be tough, tiring, and chronically stressful for everyone, both for those practicing social distancing and for those working on the frontline. Dark times may lie ahead of us, but we can all do our part by choosing not what’s easy, but what is right.
Stephanie Chan is an internal medicine resident.
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