On March 3, 2020 I was sitting at a continuing education course with some colleagues.
I remember getting texts on my phone that we had our first COVID patient.
None of us knew what to do with this information and considered leaving the course. I remember this as a pivotal point before all the insanity began at our large NYC hospital.
My work life quickly transitioned to “Covid Land” in which I was redeployed to be on a special ICU team to work with the sickest of the sick as an occupational therapist. Slowly we stopped recognizing each other behind all of our gear, our faces were raw and in pain and my jaw actually went out of alignment from 14 hour days without breaks.
I consider myself to be a generally positive person but this has been the most challenging time in my life. I honestly believe that every single person has been through incredible challenges since March and I wish I had the answers on how to cope throughout these times.
My strongest allies have been my coworkers. Mid-march I had my first high-risk exposure and our policies were adapting to our understanding of the disease by the hour. My roommate moved back home to her parents shortly into the pandemic and I have been living alone ever since.
Each decision, every action I have made since March has had to become incredibly thought-out about the possible implications to my small “pod”; my work family and the very rare occasion that is feasible to see my family.
My parents live out of state and I could not see them for over half a year. My brother lives about an hour away and we have met for a few socially distant get-togethers. These meetups have brought joy to my life but also pain- I wanted more than anything to simply have one hug and spend more than an hour with my family – but while actively treating Covid patients, this hasn’t been a reality.
I was living in this alternate universe of trauma and death and desolation and had no outlets. I clung to all the people who reached out to me and I especially made a point to contact people I knew in similar situations. Because let me tell you- going through a pandemic alone, without seeing family or friends is something I will never wish on anyone.
Pesach was perhaps the most challenging due to its inherent baseline complexity- I had never made Pesach and I wasn’t even sure if I would have to work on the holiday due to the highly specialized nature of my new role. Also, three days alone with no news-that was something unique. Each hurdle, each near exposure has isolated me beyond measure but I have also learned to embrace my new mantra, “I can do hard things.”
Early on, the 7pm cheer for medical professionals would bring me to tears and I would hope to leave work in time to hear it. A neighbor who happened to be an old MTV DJ would have a radio hour and that one hour a week of music playing brought me immense joy. At that point early in the pandemic my face simply hurt too much to go outside any more than I needed to- because well, I could not stand to have the mask on my face any longer than necessary because I was wearing it around the clock in the hospital. Finding any humor and light was a daily goal and I credit the creativity of meme creators out there for helping me get through 2020.
All spring and summer, my goal was to see my niece for her birthday. Out of considerable caution, I had a negative Covid test and an inflatable unicorn costume and a mask on underneath. Let me tell you, that July day was a sauna but our tears of joy were worth every second.
Over the past few months, I have developed new hobbies- calligraphy, crafting “ear savers” for the masks of my coworkers, and deep-tissue inner nose massages (aka Covid swabs). I have strongly relied on my family’s supportive words and my mother’s dedication to saying Tehillim while on “strict Covid shifts.”
I have prayed often. You can say a lot of Tehillim under your breath while a patient is crashing in front of you – the mask and the loud negative pressure systems keep those prayers private.
Part of my working routine this entire year has included listening to the OU Nach Yomi daily podcast on my way to work. Each morning, I would listen closely and take some message that I wished to remember for the day. I also took to writing myself a word or message on my painful (but lucky to have and rewear) n95 masks. It soon became an office activity in which people would suggest words. Sometimes it reflected a vibe or feeling I was trying to achieve and sometimes on a low day, I allowed myself to feel those intense hard feelings.
My perspective has shifted so tremendously. Any time I see family or a friend, I feel more present and aware of the extreme good fortune to be able to see them. Being able to work out and meditate has been invaluable (thank goodness for Peloton). Most importantly, I consistently try to find humor and spread some joy – I have now worn that inflatable unicorn costume to work twice. If nothing else, allowing myself to feel these rollercoaster emotions has been freeing.
B’H I was able to spend this holiday season with family and no longer felt radioactive to be around them. I feel refreshed for whatever this fall brings.
If you know anyone in healthcare or single- please check in with them- a positive thought goes a long way. I don’t think anyone has the answers but making sure no one feels lonely despite being alone is truly a powerful concept.