coronavirus chronicles #5

some rambling thoughts/memories/snapshots, in no particular order, from my first week of the term:

I. I drove some hours to my home, the one where my family isn’t. I walked in beaming, as if it was the first time I moved in, a few bags in hand. My housemates were as they are, usually found in the sunlit kitchen. Somehow life seemed as normal as it could be, before they greeted me with outstretched hands that somehow also discouraged my approaching. Until, I noticed the collection of cleaning supplies, disinfectants on the counter, and that they too stood a little farther away from each other than before. Until, I was reminded the pandemic was in full swing.

II. The act of congregating on beaches, in parks is ableist. How little I know of the struggles and erasure of differently-abled people, and how much we can learn from their powerful organizing.

III. The woman on the phone asked for guidance on who gets to live when we no longer have enough ventilators, doctors, or whatever is needed to breathe life into a person at the brink of death. Would it be policymakers and leadership to decide? Would it be a God Committee? Would we all renege our responsibility to prepare for such tough questions, denying the possibility of their realization, until the treacherous task fell so harshly on the doctor at the bedside, exhausted and distressed? How will we reckon with the remorse, frustration, anger, helplesness — the moral distress of our healthcare workers? The ethicists are working on it.

IV. Resilience and fluidity: two words our professors use to describe the elephant in the room. They say they miss us and ask to see our faces. And we see each other, in each screen, a different world. I remembered them: brilliant, beautiful in Remsen and Vail. But here they are, in places I’ve never visited, rooms I don’t recognize. I mourn the replacement of the shared experience of medical school with that of the pandemic. And seeing their familiar faces in unfamiliar rooms, I am reminded of my favorite articles, that reads so differently to me each time I return to it: Maria Lugones’ piece on Playfulness, “world”-traveling, and loving perception. I think of how my classmates may roam, be at ease, or playful in these different places of theirs. I imagine them brilliant and beautiful in these worlds of theirs.

V. I spend my days studying in a room halfway below ground, where the sunshine reflects off recently uncovered grass, walking the trails on a quiet, rural town. On my run, the other day, I waved hello to a neighbor who never seemed to notice me before. She returned my hello and held her breath as I passed.

VI. I take full use of the grand excuse to call my old friends from college. To hear their voices, their stories, and feel my heartache in how much I miss them, how beautiful it is to see how much has changed from that first trip to NYC, that campus controversy, from the uninhibited 2 AM conversations on the lawn by our college dorm. We continue making false promises to see each other soon, but no longer undermined by busy schedules alone.

VII. I am thinking of a class of 92 people that are now about 66 screens, some black squares. And slowly, some of us invest, we turn our cameras, allow our facial expressions to be freely observed by those watching. We rebuild our lives with Zoom links, adapting our classes, club meetings, gym classes, lunch hours, and book clubs online — all at the DartZoom Online School of Medicine.

VIII. I am inspired by my friends who are using their education to help others amid this pandemic. One is helping to create more ventilators. Another spent a week doing math, conducting a community-based analysis of transmission. Others volunteer in their communities, take care of their families, and help out in more ways than I know. They inspire me to believe we can emerge better than how this pandemic found us. They inspire me to ask what else I can do.

IX. Last year, we celebrated your birthday over dinner in D.C. with friends and fanfare. This year, we called each other on FaceTime; you ate a cupcake alone in your apartment, and I added “happy birthday” emojis around my face.

X. “No one is kidding themselves that two weeks of social distancing is going to turn this around. This is going to go on for months” (Grand Rounds). Yikes.

XI. About two years ago, around this time, I volunteered for a week in Calais, helping cook and serve meals to refugees with the organization, Help Refugees. The circumstances were dire enough to ensure food and basic shelter, but the volunteers worked hard, gave up other opportunities to show up and provide. I cannot imagine the added catastrophes that could ensue if the coronavirus hits a refugee camp. While countries work to protect their citizens, who will protect refugees? (For certain, the brave hearts who don’t live their life within borders, whose love for humanity is borderless).

Thank you for reading!

Living in a plague is just an intensified way of living. It merely unveils the radical uncertainty of life that is already here, and puts it into far sharper focus. We will all die one day, and we will almost all get sick at some point in our lives; none of this makes sense on its own (especially the dying part). The trick, as the great religions teach us, is counterintuitive: not to seize control, but to gain some balance and even serenity in absorbing what you can’t. There may be moments in this great public silence when we learn and relearn this lesson. Because we will need to relearn it, as I’m rediscovering in this surreal flashback to a way of living I once knew. Plague living is almost seasonal for humans. Like the spring which insists on arriving.

How to Survive a Plague By Andrew Sullivan

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