The unexpected time the COVID-19 pandemic gives physicians


My three-year-old daughter calls it “canolavirus.” To her, it represents the answer to a number of hitherto unprecedented events happening in her life at this time. Her physician mommy working from home for a number of weeks now. The last she remembers mommy being home continuously for such a long stretch of time was never. I went back to work after my maternity leave when my daughter was eight weeks old. She, of course, has no recollection of that event. We now take long walks where mommy talks about the blue skies, the clouds, the birds chirping: This is quite unusual. Mommy is teaching her how to graduate from a tricycle to a bicycle with training wheels. Mommy is not hurried at all times. We are reading books, coloring, writing, and baking. We are doing things together as a family. Indeed, we are all discovering our hidden talents collectively and separately in a new world.

One of the unexpected benefits of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the ability to slow down our pace of life and observe. For a long time pre-COVID-19 era, we have complained about the chaotic frenzy in our lives. We have spent years rushing ourselves and our children from school to soccer (with rushed to -go snacks during the car ride) to homework to dinner and bed. We have prided ourselves at our multitasking abilities and goaded our kids to excel. Weekends that were packed with birthday parties, dance lessons, and unending to-do lists are now being replaced by the uneasy tranquility of long walks, scootering, and cycling. We have rediscovered sidewalk chalk!

The social distancing and quarantine is slowing us down and making us pause at every juncture. It is reminding me of a different time, of my childhood, when the compulsive urge to overbook every waking minute of my life did not exist. Hours when I could just stare outside my window and count the number of green mangoes on the tree beside my house. Back then, it felt ok to waste some time. This pandemic is compelling us to face the vicissitudes of our life, of realizing that we are fragile creatures and that our existence, in the grand scheme of nature, is but a mere chance. We are mortals- we die. We are subject to the same laws as those that govern the rest of the planet, and our anthropocentrism is vain and arrogant. 

The pandemic also reminds us that we are “a piece of the continent.” That all our boundaries and distinctions are artificial. That invisible threads of interdependence tie us to each other and to all else on this planet. Beneath our arbitrary demarcations of skin color, language and nationality are the same fears, same wishes, same pain, and ultimately, the same death. We are enmeshed in the same web of our capricious human nature. We are, therefore, learning now to be a little bit kinder. The smiles to our neighbors are brighter. The tips to the grocery delivery man slighter larger. The phone calls or text messages to our friends a bit more frequent. The zoom meeting between cousins scattered across the world suddenly more important. The sense of community is a little bit stronger.

As we chug along our days and mull over our ineffectual existence, as we devour every news of a possible vaccine or experimental drug, as we lose sleep over every statistic, as we jog and bike and plant our gardens, we also see the paradigm of existence slowly fading away. We see the beginning of a new world order, and we are unprepared and unwilling to accept the change.

And that is when I see my three-year-old yet again. And I recount the day I hopped and skipped like a little girl in my front yard, oblivious to the world beyond. As a three year old, my daughter loves all things ephemeral. Balloons and bubbles and crayons and slime. She does not plan; she does not predict. She lives in the now. She is carefree. And that is when the weight on my shoulder lifts. Maybe when this is all over, maybe then, we will lead a more meaningful, less crowded existence. Perhaps we will never go back to the old normal because it was never normal to begin with. Perhaps this is my chance to learn from observing my daughter quietly. How intently she colors her pictures. How gently she holds my hand as we walk. Maybe there is some good behind all this.

Aakanksha Asija is a hematology-oncology physician.

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