The bittersweet post-COVID life for this physician

This week, I opened my planner and came across a list of my goals for Spring that I’d written back in early January: attend a Latin dance festival; get my blue belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu; travel. These sorts of activities open my mind, allowing me to make progress in areas of my life outside of medicine. Maybe that list was a tad ambitious at the concept stage, for my plans also included attending conferences and meetings across Canada while still pursuing my master’s in journalism part-time and continuing my work as a physician. (How can I forget?)

Needless to say, my plans for 2020 have changed. The world looks a lot different now. Life as we know it will be punctuated by the pandemic; we will have pre-COVID and post-COVID eras. I’m wondering how this post-COVID era will evolve.

Instead of pursuing my perfect plans, I’m learning as much as I can about a disease that didn’t previously exist while trying to stay healthy and balanced. I’ve moved back home to Nova Scotia. Working as a doctor and reading about COVID-19 takes up a substantial portion of my time. While my patients in the hospital aren’t allowed to have visitors during the pandemic, I’m also grappling with my own lack of human contact outside of work. I won’t be able to see my nieces and nephews for an unknown length of time. My social scene has shriveled. I linger longer at the hospital than I need to, conversing with colleagues two meters apart through masks, knowing that I won’t see anyone in person again until my next shift. And in what universe is dating possible? These changes aren’t easy.

A friend of mine described the pandemic as “bittersweet” after having spent the day at home hunting for Easter eggs with his children. Bittersweet Symphony by The Verve has always been one of my favorite songs. The song is more relevant now than ever. I tend to ebb and flow between the bitter and the sweet anyway. The pandemic has only amplified these states of being. I’m bitter for a few reasons: Dancing while physical distancing doesn’t work; digital jiu-jitsu isn’t the same; Facetime can never replace being with friends and family. I am hoping for a sweetness, though, in the emergence of new patterns. Especially simplicity.

When I began preparing my lunch today, I looked at my cupboard. At first glance, I didn’t think I had many options. Pre-COVID, I would have hopped in my car and made a trip to the grocery store to replenish my seemingly scarce supply. But today, in the age of staying put, I ate what I already had on hand. Beans, a slice of bread, and two eggs. It took me five minutes to make lunch (and it tasted pretty darn good). I’m talking to old friends on the phone almost every day. I’m reading more books and listening to more music. Despite the global chaos, my life is becoming more simple.

As someone who is always on the go, the pandemic has given me the gift of reflection. In slowing down, I’m defining the values that I really want to nurture, sketching out my life as I want it in a post-COVID world. My revised list of goals for 2020: Enjoy life; keep it simple; be in love; don’t make lists; when getting the urge to make a list, fight the urge, and revert to the first item on the new list – enjoy life.

Sarah Fraser is a family physician who can be reached at her self-titled site, Sarah Fraser MD. She is the author of Humanities Emergency.

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