Real Women, Real Stories: Pandemic Edition, vol. 4
Intro by Liz Kent: This incredible story of a woman, navigating the beginning of her motherhood journey in the midst of the medical crisis of the past year, brought tears to my eyes. This year + has been HARD, and hard in a very unique way for working moms. But, you are not alone.
In February 2020, my husband and I sat in a consultation office of a pediatric cardiac surgeon - my husband holding our infant daughter, me holding my yellow legal pad full of notes. "So we will plan to do the surgery just as soon as flu season is over," the surgeon said. Offhandedly my husband added "And I guess we'll see whatever this new coronavirus is," and we all laughed a little bit. We shook hands (was that the last time I've shaken a stranger's hand?), and agreed to meet in a couple weeks to finally repair the congenital hole in our daughter's heart. We were terrified, but desperate for the surgical fix she needed. And then, Covid. The hospital stopped all elective surgeries shortly after that visit, and we had to wait four months to schedule her operation.
That's one of my earliest memories of the Covid-19. The very first memory that I have of it was from one of my patients. (Yes, I'm ashamed to say, I am a doctor and I still laughed off coronavirus in February 2020.) One month earlier in January 2020 - my last year of internal medicine residency - I was taking care of a woman with pneumonia. She asked me if I thought it could be coronavirus. I hadn't heard about "coronaviruses" since my microbiology class in medical school when I had to memorize every type of RNA virus. "No," I said to her. "Huh?" I thought to myself.
Since those early days of Covid, it's hard to count the ways big and small that it has changed my - and everyone's - life. The fears of bringing the virus home to my family, the crash course in treating patients via tele-medicine, the early days when we knew there were not enough tests, then the scary days when we worried there were not enough ventilators, and all the while the challenges of being a new mom in a new reality.
One of the craziest parts of the year, however, is that eventually it stopped feeling so crazy. Staying at home all the time was just what we did. Holiday dinners with two place settings and one high chair were normal. No hugs, no coffee dates, no parties, no play groups - no problem. Over the last year my life grew very small. And my newest challenge, oddly enough, is how to grow it back to what it used to be. My husband and I are both vaccinated, and slowly but surely our families and friends are all getting vaccinated as well. We are cautiously and a bit nervously trying to find our groove again. We went to dinner with friends. We booked a road trip with a hotel. We are talking about flying somewhere in the fall. But the re-introduction to society has been bumpy. In a moment of excitement after my parents finally got their first vaccine shot I said, "Let's plan your trip down!." Then the next day I panicked and backpedaled, saying "Let's wait." I recently had dinner with a small group of vaccinated colleagues and found myself wondering "Should I hug them hello? Can I take my mask off? Is it weird if I leave it on?" I was awkward.
Another challenge has been the feeling that the last year is a lost year. We usually mark our time in milestones and celebrations, but what happens when you skip them all? I find myself wondering, "What did we do for Fourth of July last year? Didn't we get together with that couple in the Spring? Oh wait that was the year before. What did I get my husband for his birthday? Did I get him anything for his birthday?" And so on. The feeling makes me particularly sad when I think about my daughter, who is one and a half. What was lost in this year for her?
It's hard to count all that's been lost. But I do know that some has been gained. I have gained immeasurable respect for my colleagues, the ones who work on the Covid units and exhaust themselves on the front line every day. I have gained an immense appreciation for science and the gift it has given us in a vaccine. I have gained a gratitude for each day I wake up healthy - which Covid has taken from so many. And most of all I have gained perspective on what is really important - something that my now healthy daughter reminds me of every day.