We Are More Than the Sum of our Fears
By Hope Cottrill, MD
As I write this, I feel like I’m giving voice to so many shared concerns. Yes, we all have worries about our patients’ health, personal health, infecting loved ones, will our practice survive, what will things look like on the other side, will we ever eat in a restaurant again; so much uneasiness about our lives and futures. However, the voice that creeps up on occasion, the voice of panic and fear, that’s the one I really hate. This quiet dread needs to be met with a triumphant voice of joy and strength. We are more than the sum of our fears. We are smarter every day and are evolving in unexpected ways and we share in our hearts the hope that every tomorrow brings.
It’s been a tough time.
We have seen it in our patients. Cancer patients are a high risk COVID infection population and the manifestation of anxieties that my staff and I deal with are unpresented. We’ve come to rely on our mental health care providers more than ever in negotiating the shipwreck yards of anxiety, depression, paranoia, and profound loneliness. The neglected health issues, hesitation to come to the emergency room, and uprooted social support are conversations for patient encounters every day. We find ourselves unable to hug or even give a handshake to a terminal patient. Are we not hostages of our own guidelines and our own fears?
We have seen it in our loved ones and ourselves. The gratefulness for interactions be it time with partner, pet, and virtual chats with family and friends is partnered with the claustrophobia of nowhere to go and having nothing to do. Balancing our personal needs with the needs of those we care the most about is a nagging ache. My stepfather is going to be 89 years old at the end of the month. He really does not understand anything that is going on around him and repeatedly asks questions like, “What is this thing?” Trying to communicate with a demented parent whose condition has worsened due to isolation leading to depression has been an ongoing challenge for my family.
My husband and I are both physicians. While we were concerned about government and administrative policies, the never ending deluge of email updates, PPE, coming to work at a hospital every day, our baby girl grew up and became gainfully employed at a physician office. Now. During an international pandemic. I didn’t expect the little jolt of panic, but there it was. 50% of our household is now employed in the medical field. Now. During an international pandemic.
Why was this my moment of dreaded concern, my line in the sand? Many deep breaths ensued. My daughter is 18. She is the woman we raised her to be. Her goals didn’t stop because of COVID. I had to trust her that she was doing the right thing – even now, even with all semblance of every day life falling down around us. Her life changed, but she adapted and has found her new normal.
We will all find our way. We will all have our moments of sadness and alarm. But we need to have faith that things will get better. We must find the joys in every moment possible, the radiance in every ray of sun, the life in every raindrop. And it is essential that we reaffirm trust in those around us to do the right thing, even as we question everything.