An appreciation for the sacred spaces at work

As a healer who has been doing my work in the dark, blind in a sense, today was a big day.

The visit was scheduled, not as a phone visit but as my first Zoom visit since the pandemic began 150 days ago. Usually, I see about 30 patients in-person a week. During the five months of COVID, I have seen about 30 patients in-person total, with the remainder conducted entirely by phone.

For someone who values that sacred space where the exam room creates a space where all other worries and commitments cease to matter for those 20 minutes, the only commitment being presence, this has been a big change. Let’s just say it more bluntly – it has been really hard for me, and I am sure most of the world’s patients and providers.

A phone call now replaces that sacred space with interruptions and multi-tasking, my kids often seeking daddy’s attention as I sit in my home office (e.g., living room couch). Not being able to see people in these visits during COVID further dehumanizes the time together.

I signed on, not believing this was happening, but hoping I wasn’t about to hear an alarm clock that would wake me from a pleasant dream.

In a touchless, six feet apart, face-covered-with-masks reality, I was about to get closer to the people I work with as a physician, the people who teach me about healing.

I hoped this would re-create the sacred space I have been so missing.

When the visit started, Ms. Armijo (name changed to protect patient confidentiality) couldn’t get her tablet’s visual aspect to work.

“Geez. I knew this was too good to be true,” I mumbled to myself. I think it was just life’s way of building the suspense, doing what all movie directors and novelists do so well. Make ‘em wait for the good stuff.

Then suddenly she was there, smiling at me. And I was able to smile back. No facemasks to spoil the moment!

I really did not expect the rush of emotions that rushed and gushed in those next moments. Here’s a decent recap of them put into words:

Wow!

I can’t believe this! I can see her and she can see me.

When I say, “I am really glad to have the chance to see you for this visit,” I won’t have to make a silly joke about what “see” means anymore.

I knew I was missing something big these last months, but wow, I didn’t realize how much the human connection was lost in these phone call visits.

Warmth. Connection. Healing.

Healing of a great chasm created by five months of practicing medicine blindfolded.

Sacred space

Wow!

In that visit, and in the few I have done since then, I take time to ask the person to show me something about their life that I would never get to see, never be able to fully appreciate if the visit was done in a clinic.

Ms. Armijo chose to show me her service dog that has been such a big part of her healing journey. I licked the screen, an appropriate dog greeting. In exchange, I share something on my end – the garden, a picture, etc. Two humans just trying to find a real connection in a virtual world.

Appreciate these small moments today, tomorrow, and next week. Those moments where the sacred spaces in your life suddenly return. Maybe not in quite the same form as they would have pre-pandemic, but good enough to make your heart skip a beat, for gratitude to grow, and for light to shine upon the dark.

Reminding us all that the sacred spaces are still much closer to us than we think.

Anthony Fleg is a family physician who blogs at Writing to Heal.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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