COVID-19 is a time of coming to terms with meaning in our lives and tolerating uncertainty

Initially, after completing my master’s degree, I felt a bit lost. Being very busy, juggling different roles, focusing on areas of interest to the exclusion of other areas of life has long been my comfort zone. The stillness of having completed an intensive project while working full time would have been challenging enough. But in the middle of a pandemic, I found myself wandering around my house, confined, without a compass. The stillness was alien, at first, but that brief time was enough to awaken a reverberating message. I am once again too busy, working in my primary profession and focusing on the craft of a whole new perspective. I now recognize the cost of this necessary, temporary effort, though. And I will make room for that stillness going forward, for the introspection and self-reflection allowed in the space. It wasn’t an easy place to be, but it was invaluable to reconnect with what is important in life and the meaning to be made.

As a physician in a pandemic, I am relatively very fortunate. We are not currently overwhelmed, and we learned a lot during the first wave. We know so much more now about personal protective equipment, donning and doffing, wearing a mask despite mixed messaging. We have learned about relying on each other and the imperative of working in a cooperative environment. Circumstances have enabled a unique need to communicate effectively, and our disparate units with competing interests to find common ground. On the other hand, this is a time of deep anxiety, unpredictability, and seen and unseen danger all around. It is a time of serious coming to terms with meaning in our lives and tolerating uncertainty.

At-risk frontline clinicians cover a wide swath of people: individuals making our way forward, presenting to contribute in the best ways we know-how. We must remember, though, to also attend to our own needs, to nurture the resilience it takes to move through such challenging times. It is a simple thing to reach under the protective cover of our daily way of being in the world and connect with the emotion we shield ourselves from. But it isn’t easy work. This crossed my mind in the form of a story relayed to me by someone close. It is about the depth of the difference we are each making in our work. It is a story about coping with overwhelm one small part at a time. It is a reminder to make room for stillness so that we can continue to do our critical work effectively, with thoughts about finding opportunities in challenge, and nurturing resilience.

Maire Daugharty is an anesthesiologist.

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