This week’s blog is a bit of a departure. Not focused on coronavirus facts but rather the raw emotion of it all.
This is an emotional time, unlike anything we have ever experienced. Our lives have been turned upside down, normal life patterns shattered. Many of my patients have been expressing extreme concern about even the most basic of activities, like grocery shopping. I’ve felt that way too! And social distancing has created waves of loneliness. Tomorrow is Easter Sunday and millions of people won’t be able to attend religious services. It’s been a scary, frustrating, and anxious few weeks and it’s not over yet.
Yet obstacles thrown our way can force us down unexpected but sometimes better paths. And as I’ve navigated our new collective reality, I’ve discovered that much of the disruption that has come with coronavirus has brought hidden blessings.
Here is my experience.
My parents live in Toronto, and my father, an active 82 year old going on 60 and still practicing medicine full time - was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer. Doctor visits, scans, lab tests, and recurrent hospitalizations took up most of February as my father’s health deteriorated rapidly. In March the added complexity of coronavirus descended, eliminating my parents’ interactions with their support system, while creating progressively frightening trips to healthcare centers with crowded waiting rooms.
In the midst of all of this I started to fly in on weekends from Minneapolis to help as much as I could. Two weeks ago, when I landed in Canada the customs official informed me that anyone entering the country would have to mandatorily self-quarantine for 14 days or face a $1 million dollar fine and 3 years in jail. I was now in Toronto, not for a couple of days but for a couple of weeks! My life just got turned upside down. How would I manage that?
And yet, it has been a lifetime since I’ve been able to spend two uninterrupted weeks with my parents. Parts of my stay have been laced with profound sadness as I face the loss of a truly amazing man. But I’ve also had the joyous experience of being able to speak at leisure with my father about his life, to ask for his wisdom, hold his hand every day, and tell him how much I love him. Without interruptions or distractions. How incredibly fortunate. Not everyone has the opportunity to have that time with their loved ones in their final days.
The mandated quarantine for COVID-19 actually facilitated this. Had it not been for the pandemic, I would have continued to travel to Toronto on weekends spending most of my time just tending to the logistics of my father’s care. Those meaningful discussions would probably have never taken place.
At the same time, I’ve witnessed the best in people all around me. My husband and children holding down the fort at home while still showering me with unwavering emotional support. My medical practice surviving with the help of telemedicine and a team of selfless individuals who made it all possible and painless. And everyone at Step One continuing to work tirelessly to make all the products you need while ensuring that every order goes out on time. None of this required cajoling - people just stepped up and did it while I’ve been away.
My circumstances are unique - as are yours - but sometimes it takes a forced reset to appreciate all the positives around us even in the face of uncertainty or tragedy. Perhaps all that time at home has allowed you to tackle tasks that you’ve never been able to get around to. Maybe you’ve figured out that rotating who goes to the store among neighbors while combining shopping lists makes sense to adopt long term. And maybe the mandatory quarantine has brought your family closer together.
In the end, we thrive when we’re socially interconnected and experience purpose and joy, no matter what the circumstance. Those pillars of healthy longevity may be vital to heart health, but they’re also important for getting through a pandemic. So no matter how profoundly COVID-19 has affected your life or the lives of your loved ones, I sincerely hope that you have been attending to your pillars and that you too have found some silver linings.