I look at the mirror at a tired naked face as I don my surgical mask over my hijab with my makeshift tie to keep my mask on since I can’t tie them on my ears. My kids at home are doing their remote learning, like many other kids around the world. Will I be home in time to make sure my 6 year old makes it on time to her Zoom class? I have no clue what my 8 year old is doing for his school project, but I remiss. Work is calling, asking where I am. I need five more minutes to sanitize and plastic wrap my phone.
Recently, Ramadan passed when Muslims fast from dawn to sunset for 30 days. The mask is making me hotter and increasing my thirst, but then I’m grateful to not having to take off my mask to hydrate myself. I walk into the exam room, and I’m met with an awkward stare from my patient. Perhaps it’s my mask and lack of handshake that bother this person? I start the physical exam and take out my stethoscope, and I get the question: “Where did you go to medical school?” The question then leads to “when did you graduate?” which really questions my experience/age and then leads to “so you where are you from?” The loaded question that many minorities are all too familiar with, which really says, you do not look “American.”
My phone continuously buzzes from my multiple WhatsApp groups as I go through my patients from mothers in my kids’ school debating and worried about reopening school. Then I remember, we did not thaw any meat, and will we have food to break our fasts tonight? I quickly text my husband, asking him to order food. Oops, I’m late to another Zoom meeting while organizing the resident didactic schedule.
I drive back home and race to the bathroom to decontaminate myself while avoiding my kids to keep them from hugging me. I feel the burden of the day wash off literally and figuratively. My mind wanders, and I start daydreaming about potential passion projects that lasts five minutes until I hear yelling. I rush down and find my kids wrestling, school work not completed, dishes spilling out of the sink, my husband stuck on teleconference calls, and the cycle of stress restarts. I give and give until it feels like I have nothing left to give.
Reading the above paragraphs sounds stressful, and one may question, “How do I manage this all?” Not well as my recurrent stomach ulcer pain has kept me up a couple of nights. With that being said, what the prior month of Ramadan showed me is the ability to look outward. This requirement to stay at home led me to reflect on the current state of the pandemic from a spiritual point of view. Whatever our spiritual leanings may be, there are lessons to be learned. While the world may look to be doom and gloom, I have seen more good than bad. People coming together to deliver food to those who cannot leave their homes, donations of masks and PPE for frontline workers, increased giving especially to those who have lost their jobs and sustenance, caring for elderly neighbors, and more phone calls between relatives. During one of the last nights of Ramadan, my daughter said, “giving feels good” after gathering her toys to donate for a local shelter. It took me by a bit of surprise, yet the innocence in her voice lightened my deep angst. And though I give and give – to my family, my patients, my residents, my colleagues, my parents, and my friends, I have come to realize that giving does feel good. Kindergarteners sure do know best.
Alya Khan is an occupational medicine physician.
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