My dear Juniatians,
This past Holy Week has been a time for reflection for many of us, whether we are stuck at home with our families or working one of the many essential jobs that help keep our country stumbling forward.
I completed a combined residency in Internal Medicine and Pediatrics and am currently working at an Urgent Care and Primary Care clinic in Baltimore, Maryland. While we aren't currently testing patients for the COVID-19 virus, we see all patients who come in the door, 14 hours a day, 7 days a week, and many of them have serious symptoms who end up testing positive for the virus after we send them to the hospital. Each patient causes a fresh wave of emotions as I make sure my mask (reused for days at a time) is tightly secure, my plastic glasses are in place, my hands are washed and gloved, and my attitude is fresh. This new patient don't know that I've already had 3 very suspicious patients today for COVID including one in respiratory distress, 10+ mildly suspicious patients who I've had to send home, frustrated, without testing due to lack of local availability (they wouldn't have met criteria for testing anywhere due to mild symptoms and lack of test kits), 5-6 broken bones and lacerations to repair, and one angry patient demanding narcotics. All this new patient knows is that he has a cough and shortness of breath and is here to seek a physician's help, vulnerable and scared. My job is to help them in whatever way I can, and I enter the room with a smile behind my mask to ask, "How can I help you today?"
Many days have adjusted to a new normal, but there are also days when I feel crushed. When I come home, strip out of my scrubs in the doorway, and spend too much time online watching the trends and reading the news. My heart breaks when I hear horror stories from my friends in NYC. When I learn of friends being deployed into different units in the hospital, being asked to serve in a capacity they aren't familiar with: a Pathologist who spends most of his day in a lab sent to help adult patients with COVID on an inpatient floor, an ENT (Ears Nose and Throat) physician sent to the ICU, a family friend pulled out of his quiet farming retirement to work in the hospital. Each of us, silently struggling, is working to uphold the Hippocratic oath we swore upon becoming physicians, "May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help." Paul Kalanithi, a brilliant neurosurgeon who died in his 30s from metastatic lung cancer, wrote the heartbreaking memoir "When Breath Becomes Air." He says, "These burdens are what make medicine holy and wholly impossible: in taking up another's cross one must sometimes get crushed by the weight."
Many of us feel crushed by the weight of all this: emotionally, physically, economically, spiritually. Yet despite this we do what we can, meeting others in our kinship with them. Because isn't that all we can really do? Be with our fellow humans (in the broader sense of the word, knowing we are trying to be socially distant) in this time of need? Father Greg Boyle, a Jesuit priest who works with former and current gang members wrote "Kinship - not serving the other, but being one with the other. Jesus was not 'a man for others,' he was one of them. There's a world of difference in that."
I challenge you to be one with the others in your life. That can take so many forms, and Juniatians are known for their creativity. Reach out today, tomorrow, and the next day to your friends who are alone, or nurturing a new infant at home with little support, or working in the healthcare field, or helping to keep grocery store shelves stocked, or silently suffocating in worry about the economic impact this is having on their family. You may not have all the answers to help them (or even any of the answers), but you can stand beside them and help them not be crushed by the burden of their cross.
And then, finally, recall the meaning of the Resurrection and breathe deeply. For Christians in the Biblical sense, but for all of us in the literal meaning of the word: causing something that has ended or been forgotten or lost to exist again. Trust that one day there will be a new normal beyond all of this, and that there will be a resurrection.
You’re invited to join us in sharing how you, or another Juniatian, are remaining
#JuniataStrong in these difficult times.
Submit your story at https://fal.cn/37j3u or use the hashtag on social media.