Living the surreal experience of the COVID-19 pandemic challenges us on multiple levels. As a physician, I feel the responsibility to understand the magnitude of the situation and implement the best measures to protect my patients, trainees, my family, and myself. I experience the fear of getting sick or losing a loved one and the sadness and frustration of seeing millions of lives affected by illness, desperation, isolation, and death.
COVID-19 has challenged me even more in my role as a mother. Living the quarantine with two energetic boys has transformed motherhood into an emotional rollercoaster. The combination of COVID-19, taking care of two boys, and continuing working has, at times, been overwhelming, even while having the support of my wonderful husband. I have found myself being absorbed by the challenges, almost forgetting the positive things that still surround me.
“You’ll miss the best things if you keep your eyes shut”
– Dr. Seuss
Luckily, my sons and Dr. Seuss brought me back to the positives, teaching me new lessons and reminding me of some others, allowing me to see COVID-19 through their naive and kind eyes.
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
– Dr. Seuss.
While my kids were running around, we learned about the increasing number of cases and deaths, and the fear of doctors getting sick due to lack of resources. Suddenly, my four-year-old asked for a pen, paper, and some coins. “Why?” I inquired. Ari answered: “I want to send a letter to the president asking him to take care of the doctors and give the coins to the doctors so they can buy some masks.” This took me by surprise. I didn’t realize that he was listening, much less that he knew that something was wrong. For him, the solution was simple, and he was ready to fix the problem right there and then.
Lesson: Be socially aware, acknowledge what happens around you, and do something about it. Don’t wait for others to bring solutions. Even if we don’t have a cure or vaccines yet, we have the power to reduce the spread and diminish deaths. Proactive education and encouragement of best practices to avoid COVID-19 transmission could save many lives. Be a leader, a role model.
“A person’s a person, no matter how small.”
– Dr. Seuss
One night, Eli, my six-year-old, started crying. I thought it was another attempt to stay awake longer or to come to my bed. But this was a different situation: “Please go to another house. Leave”. I asked: Why?”. Eli answered full of tears: “I don’t want to see you dying; it will break my heart forever.” I didn’t know what to say. “I don’t want you to die, mommy.” “I won’t,” I said, also in tears. I felt embarrassed for complaining all day about them not behaving, not caring, or helping. They were more caring and fearful than I was aware of.
Lesson: Don’t underestimate other people’s feelings and fears. COVID-19 impacts all of us, affecting the most vulnerable even more. Elderly people isolated from their families are receiving less support. Individuals with mental illnesses are more helpless than ever. Kids are exposed to atypical stressors like using masks, living in seclusion, and homeschooling. Pay attention, be empathetic, and inclusive. Offer emotional support to those around you since they may be suffering in silence.
“It’s not about what it is. It’s about what it can become.”
– Dr. Seuss
After several weeks of quarantine, my patience was running extremely low. “Guys, you need to stop!” “Mommy, you are very stressed,” they said. “Of course, I am, there is a virus killing people” As if it was so simple, Eli asked, “So why hasn’t anyone destroyed it?” “Mmm, it is too strong”, I answered. He turned very thoughtful before saying. “I have a solution: What happens if instead of killing it, we transform it into a lovely virus? So people don’t get sick but instead, become nice and kind.” I smiled and gave him a big hug.
Lesson: Do not give up. Ask questions, look for answers. This is our new reality, we don’t need to accept it, but we need to embrace it. COVID-19 is now part of our lives, and we will need to adjust our lifestyle, behaviors, and expectations to keep going. Find solutions, innovate, be creative. Reinvent yourself.
“To the world, you may be one person; but to one person, you may be the world.”
– Dr. Seuss.
While working from home, I video-call one of my patients recently admitted to the hospital. I excused myself because of the background noise-my kids playing. In the middle of the conversation, Eli abruptly took my phone. “Hello, I am Eli. I know you are sick, don’t worry. Just have some rest, you will be ok soon.” The wonderful lady was as surprised as me. She said thank you and smiled back at him. “Such a big heart in such a small body,” I thought.
Lesson: Do not forget the power of pure kindness. COVID-19 is giving us the great opportunity to re-evaluate our priorities, and our role in society as human beings and as physicians. Talk to your patients, offer support. Ask them about how they feel, be available for them, let them talk. You can make a big difference, just with some words, and even with your empathetic silence.
Finally, the most important lesson that I am still learning from COVID-19, my kids, and Dr. Seuss: “Life’s too short to wake up with regrets. If you get a chance, take it. If it changes your life, let it. Nobody said it’d be easy; they just promised it would be worth it.” Remember that your words and your actions could change the lives of those that surround you. Be proactive, keep the hope, and stay safe and healthy, because your patients and your loved ones need you more than ever.
The author would like to thank Vijay Rajput, MD and Lauren Fine, MD.
Miriam Zylberglait Lisigurski is an internal medicine physician.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com