Covid, Community, and Me
Shared at Sunday service on 7/11/21
Hello church, my name is David C, and I am very slowly getting to know who you are. I hope to introduce myself and our family to you and, in doing so, use it as an opportunity to talk more openly about Covid and the Christian community. I say this because much of my life has come to be defined by this virus, both professionally and personally. Professionally, I work as a hospitalist, which means as a physician that takes care of patients sick enough to be hospitalized. I came to Delaware for my residency training and have stayed here since, continuing to work in the same system I “grew up” in. In many ways, the hospital is a community in every sense of the word: it is where I work, sometimes even where I sleep, where my colleagues and friends are, where I spend many hours of my life. Even though such time is spent dedicated to serving others, it is a place where I receive much more than simply an income. Personally, it is a place that has influenced my identity. Through many conversations and journeys with patients and coworkers, I see how many people experience and process the most meaningful aspects of life: joy, sorrow, pain, suffering, death, and purpose. I see the many ways in which acute illness challenges and transforms them and am compelled, sometimes forced, to constantly reassess how it is that I as a person, as a Christian, respond to the same.
And so when Covid came to Delaware, I felt its impact broadly, deeply, and personally. While I must give the disclaimer that my thoughts here are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer, it should be no surprise to anyone that it was a massive disruption. It not only affected the minutiae of daily life and decisions but the very nature of community itself. I saw patients with Covid consistently throughout the first 9 months, with my only defense against a terrifying and invisible new disease being sheets of plastic and a mask. Every minute I spent doing what I loved, which was often simply talking to patients and coworkers, now carried with it a risk of transmission, both to myself and to my family. And all the things which were hard before, such as watching human beings suffer & die, delivering bad news, explaining the unknown to families, coaching and encouraging staff, calculating risks and benefits, and making hard decisions with no right answers… all these things felt infinitely harder and even more complex. And it felt personally devastating when I caught Covid myself and transmitted it to my wife and children just days before I was given the opportunity for vaccination. Though we had what was on paper simply a “mild or moderate” case, it was one of the most isolating and difficult experiences of our young family’s life.
Why am I telling you this? It is partly so that you can understand me when I say hi: that the experiences of this past year have changed me profoundly and in ways I still do not yet understand. It means some days I can feel my brain nod along to the evidence and statistics that, through immunization, my risk of getting it again and becoming severely ill are virtually nil, and yet still reflexively reach for the mask and sanitizer in my pocket. It means some days I am happy to shake your hand and others I may involuntarily pause or stand a few feet further than I need to, frozen by an anxiety that is often unpredictable and bewildering. It means some days I am all smiles and laughter and some days I am expressionless and tired. It means some days I am overwhelmed by painful memories and some days I am seeking to create new and joyful ones. It means that I am sorry if there are times my actions and mood catch you by surprise; I am usually more surprised than you.
Perhaps some of this instability is because of how desperately I have sought certainty and predictability in this past year, only to find it elusive. I want to know without doubt and without question which things are safe and secure, even though I tell patients all the time that very few things in life or medicine are certain and that the things we do, the decisions we make are couched in a bed of statistical risk. I am tired of being a probabilistic automaton, endlessly estimating and weighing and calculating, driven both by the desire for certitude and the fear of regret.
The other reason I am sharing this with you is to remind myself and us, as the corporeal body of Christ, of the exhortation and promise of Micah 6:8:
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
I can choose to calculate every decision to wear a mask or not, to eat with others or not, to do this or that or not, based on the statistical probability of transmission. I do this professionally as well as personally a thousand times a day. But I must remind myself that even so, the only wisdom in understanding such proportionate risks and benefits is the extent to which it helps me to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God. I do not know what the next day, week, month, variant, season will bring or how the world around us will change. But I am learning how God cares for me a little better each day, as well as how to care for those around me. I hope to care for you — personally, not professionally — and that you can care for me too.