I went through the five stages of grief when we lost our wedding to COVID-19. The denial: “I’m sure this will be over by summer.” The anger: “This is so unfair! I’ve planned this for two years.” The bargaining: “We’ll just push it back to July, no need to go further. That’ll be fine, right?” The depression: *Sobs scrolling through others’ anniversary pictures on Instagram* The acceptance: “So, 2021 it is.”
As a pediatric resident, I had been largely spared the professional impacts of COVID-19. Of course, we had new policies regarding temperature and symptom screening and mask-donning. Our volumes were reduced, our schedules altered to decrease coverage to the minimum necessary, and our in-person electives changed to virtual. While I heard the stories of adult hospitals clamoring for beds and ventilators, and the onslaught of deaths they faced, COVID-19 didn’t impact me personally as a provider in that way.
It wasn’t until my gym was closed, my races were postponed, and my wedding was in extremis that COVID-19 felt real to me. That realization, that it took these personal, non-patient, non-human losses, to make me feel the impact of a global pandemic, was sobering. Here I was, a physician, and what made me really start to grasp the effect of a pandemic was the fact that our photographer wouldn’t be available on our new wedding date. My friends in New York City were wearing bandanas as masks and declaring more patients in a shift than I have in all of residency. And I was sad when I found RSVPs in our mailbox from our now-canceled wedding.
On a phone call with my dad, I brought this up. “It just feels wrong that this is what I care so much about right now. I’m a doctor; I should have been all about this disease when it first hit. It shouldn’t have taken me this long to care.” He responded, “When you first started residency, you worried about keeping your work-life balance. If you didn’t care about canceling your wedding, I’d be worried about you. You’re allowed to care about things besides medicine.”
He’s right. It’s OK to mourn your wedding, marathon, graduation ceremony, birthday party, or family vacation if that is what COVID-19 has taken from you. You still care about your patients and their families, your colleagues, our public health officials, and all the essential workers. You are still a good physician.
For some of you, this pandemic is pushing you to the extremes of your clinical abilities, your emotional reserves, and your physical strength. Thank you. I do not pretend to understand what your lives have been like, and I will continue to support you in every way I can.
For those of you like me, we may mourn losing these life moments. But while we have lost moments – the “I do’s,” the walk across the graduation stage – we have not lost the chance to enjoy what would have followed those moments. We have our significant others; we have the careers of our dreams. That career often asks us to put others before ourselves. For many of our friends and family members outside of medicine, this pandemic may be the first time they have been asked to make such sacrifices. Let’s be the models of grace in these moments.
Laura M. Even is a pediatric resident.
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