Action at a Distance

By an unfortunate artifact of scheduling, I worked 18 shifts in the last 22 days. Not all my patients had Covid but quite a few did. And in trying to think about what to write here, I am realizing that there is simply nothing left to say.

It is like the quintessential experience of hospital healthcare: watching someone die. There is a moment in which you watch someone die, sometimes horrifically, and you are shaken. If you are lucky, you find a way tell yourself that it was something rare or unusual or to be blamed on “poor lifestyle choices” and not something that can happen to you. If you are unlucky, you realize that it in fact could be you, might be already inside of you now, is already invading your loved ones, and that the sense of security you carry around everyday is an illusion that can be shattered unpredictably, catastrophically, and irrevocably in one fell night.

And you think to yourself, “If only people knew! If only we could change! If only if only if only…” If you are lucky, you find something tha you can control and shape and create meaning and redemption from. If you are unlucky, you never find it, or you do only to realize it too is as ephemeral as the sense of security you once possessed what feels like a long, long time ago.

And then you walk the world with new eyes and an old soul. You watch people ride motorcycles and try not to think of the weight of that severed limb in your hands that first day as a third year medical student. You watch someone puff a cigarette and try not to think of the little old lady clutching her non-rebreather reservoir bag like a purse. You hold your baby and try not to remember the shrieks of mothers and dying children.

And then… when you have walked far enough, you see someone crying and feel… nothing. You hear someone’s fears and feel… nothing. You watch someone die and feel… something?

You stop walking and realize there is a moment left, perhaps, when you might be able to feel again, but that it requires you to suffer. Again. Because that is what is required to allow yourself the imagination of pain in order to paint a portrait of sorrow that you can begin to contemplate and appreciate…

even if from a distance.


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