- My wife and I took a brief automobile trip to Virginia to visit Monticello over the July 4th weekend. We stayed in a modern, clean, socially distanced and iPhone app-driven hotel where we wiped down each surface before we touched anything in the room, let ourselves in with a key-less entry system and checked in and out without having to speak to anyone at the front desk. We brought our own food, used some of our own cutlery and other implements, walked everywhere once we got to our destinations, and ate out only at restaurants where outside dining was available, staff wore masks, and proper social distancing could be maintained. At Monticello, many, many rules and procedures applied that one would never have dreamed of when I last visited there seven years ago. We felt safe, well taken care of, and learned a lot about how truly hot a Virginia summer on the mountain can be. Every staff member wore a mask. Surfaces were being sanitized in real time. Tours were metered, and without guides. We went to the Jefferson Vineyards and saw exactly the same thing and felt the same vibe: people who were very grateful to be working, happy to welcome us there, and eager to make sure that they and their customers were super safe during their visits. We then made our way back home by traveling through Mt. Airy, NC, the hometown of Andy Griffith and inspiration for the town of Mayberry. In that small NC town, walking up the town’s main street, we were hit with a very stark contrast. Only couple of younger families, plus the two of us, wore masks in the sweltering heat. Many older, overweight, heavily breathing, uncomfortable looking older folks, some sporting politically themed t shirts or caps, made their way past us on the narrow sidewalk, nary a one wearing a face covering. As we sat in a diner to get lunch, the very nice older gentleman who took our order and appeared to run the place pulled his mask up as he knelt right by our table at much less than the prescribed six foot distance. I quickly pulled mine back on as well. “Oh, you don’t have to do that for me,” he said, his eyes crinkling as he smiled behind the cloth. “I wouldn’t wear one either,” he said in a conspiratorial stage whisper, “but I don’t want to tick anyone off.” “Oh, I do have to wear one-for you!” I responded. Wear a mask, please. For me.
- We are obviously settling into this pandemic for the long haul, doubters and politicizers and skeptics magical thinkers and haters of science be damned. The coronavirus and COVID-19, the multifaceted disease it causes, have changed our world. No, they have rocked our world. To indirectly quote a very famous musical now on Disney+, we live in a world turned upside down. As I have told more than a few patients over the last almost four months, some of the feelings and symptoms and experiences that you are having are normal. They are normal human responses to a very, very abnormal situation. Tired? Yep. Not sleeping? Check. Anxious? Doh! Unable to concentrate? Right-o. Unable to plan past your own nose? Yeppers. As I read in one commentary this past week, when we let ourselves sit quietly with this whole deal, this pandemic, we are finally struck by the very concrete realization that we have lost our normal lives. They are gone. To quote another of my favorite musicals (thanks, Greer/Kate Monster), maybe they are gone only for now. The kicker, the sheer crap of all this? We simply don’t know. No one knows. We are in as uncertain a time as I have known in my lifetime. We must practice acceptance, pray for grace and know that grief, however deep, does not last forever.
- It will be fall soon. There may not be football. I can write little more of this paragraph because the tears fill my eyes, I lose my breath and I simply cannot fathom a crisp, blue-skyed fall in the South without SEC football. In the South, football is life.
- Work issues. Oh, where do I start? I have been working from home for the majority of my days since mid-March. My wife was on voluntary furlough for two months. We have been together at home, a lot. We love each other, so this was good. Great, in fact. Lunch every day together, sometimes on the front porch in the rockers. Bike rides along the river. Movies at night. Coffee and conversation in the morning. If you live with someone you really love, who is your best friend, this is kinda cool! She went back to work yesterday. She drove to Atlanta and got on a Delta plane for the first time in two months and flew away. To South Korea. Yeah, she is thirteen hours ahead of me (that really messes with my feeble brain). It bites, but she is back at work, the unemployment payments will stop, she will settle in to a “new normal” (Lord, I do HATE that term) and we will get back to our old routines. Waaaaaaait a minute, noooooo, no we won’t! I’m still taking my thirty five second commute up the stairs and back home again every day. I still sit on a back-breaking chair (a new one is on order and should arrive any day, probably just as I get called back to my office full time). I still have more connections and dongles and screens than any one person should have, just to connect with the patients I used see face to face PC (pre-COVID). Ironically, at least to me, I am the busiest I have ever been in this job. EVER. Fewer no shows, in that patients who have their phones in their hands at their appointment times and answer said phones are captured (Mwa ha ha ha ha) and cannot no show me. Genius! As my wife once gently pointed out to me, only a few weeks into this new arrangement, “I know you like at least some part of it, though, don’t you?”, obviously referring to my love of all things tech and gadget. Yes. I’ll admit it here. I love the tech part of it, the virtual management, the scans and emails and calls and video visits and e-prescribing of prescriptions. I do. I am quite sure that it will not all magically disappear (like the virus? Naaaaaah) once we are Post COVID. It simply is too efficient and works too well, and patients LOVE it. We shall see. That being said, I also love the autonomy, but I miss the socialization. The real kind, not the Zoom kind or the Teams or the Skype kind. They are cool and flashy and let you pick your own neat background, but they are not real. (One background I used for a staff meeting this morning was so realistic that one of the clinicians asked in amazement, “Where ARE you this morning, Dr. Smith?”) Zoom. Doximity. Google Duo. Google Voice. FaceTime. We knew or cared little about all of these less than four months ago. How’s your work? Do you work from home, or are you socially distanced in an office? Do you have that vague sense of un-ease, that flat “I’m out of gas” feeling some days? Is it hard to focus? Hard to get yourself motivated every day? See (2) above. What we have right now, what we are doing right now is not real, but it’s the best we’ve got.
- Vacation planning. I want to think about it. I want to travel again. We had to postpone a planned trip to Italy in April this year because of this pandemic. Italy was not, you might say, the safest place to visit this spring. I lived in Italy from 1970 to 1972. A couple of the best years of my young life. Learned a ton. Saw the David, the Pieta, St. Peter’s, the Tower of Pisa, climbed the bell tower of the Duomo in Florence, ate pizza from a real wood fired oven in a little village pizza shop. I had not been back in fifty years. My wife flies there (or did) several times each year. We can’t go there now. The EU does not want us around. Sucks. I also worry about how and when to go back out to Denver to visit my granddaughter and her parents. She is growing up. Kids grow like weeds even in a pandemic, did you know that? Should we fly? When? Should I take ten days and drive out and back? Will I be able to go back to Arizona next year for what I fully intended to be a yearly January pilgrimage to hike and eat good food? Not being able to plan is killing me. We must have patience.
There is more, but this kind of writing is a painful recognition that the struggle is real, the stress is real, and the virus is real. We will make it through this. In the meantime, I will watch movies, listen to audiobooks (including The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History, just to see how all this turns out). Stay safe, wear a mask, wash your hands, and stay six feet apart.