What I’ve Learned From the Pandemic
Or…if you’re still breathing, you won. Now what?
12.29.2020 I live in Alaska, on a remote island, and I work in a small primary care clinic. To say I’m intensely aware of the pandemic and the impact on life is an understatement.
The state has a required Covid19 testing program for anyone flying in, and as the clinic uses several rotating providers for various staff positions, we’ve been keenly mindful of the requirements for interstate travel. When I’ve traveled to my part-time home in Washington, I’ve had to be tested to come back into the state, and either test or quarantine to come back on the island where I work.
As a non-clinical member of the staff, my role related to the virus situation has largely been one of attending meetings and sharing information with community members through online and printed means. I’ve had an up-close and personal view of the hours upon hours of meetings and trainings staff and administration have attended to form and amend policies, hear the latest science gleaned about the virus, and learn about the vaccines and all the attendant discussions of safety, side effects, priority for distribution, questions of efficacy, and on and on and on.
It has been a marathon, and my view is only of one small clinic, and the glimpses I have of larger organizations through meetings, postings, and news. When I think about how these issues have dominated healthcare, resources, and lives all over the world, the reality of this situation is enormous and overwhelming.
And now, after a year that’s been crazy-making on almost every level, the first vaccines are here. Tonight, there’s a box of vaccines sitting in the clinic, ready to be administered, beginning tomorrow morning.
I feel like I’m a witness to something important and historical. (Well, that term “historical”…it always troubles me a bit. The truth is, there are “historical” moments every day.) But you know what I mean when I say this feels historical. 2020 has given the world a once-in-a-lifetime event, a true pandemic. (I certainly hope this is the pandemic of our lifetime! When news stories refer to the last event of this magnitude, the ‘flu of 1918, it seems appropriate to consider this year’s virus to be “once-in-a-lifetime.”)
I know that the vaccines won’t bring an immediate release from masks, and we won’t be going back to “normal” for a while yet. Or maybe never. Maybe some things have changed forever. But the vaccines will make a difference, and we have to hope that in a few months, the worst will be behind us. Right?
This year has been frightening, humbling, and a reality check. No one is invincible in the path of this virus…not heads of state, not celebrities, not young people, not wealthy people, not smart people, not healthy people. No one is safe from risk, or the impact of shutdowns, or loss of beloved spiritual, cultural, and social gatherings and rituals. And it turns out, no one is an island. We actually miss one another when we’re separated. Isolation and quarantine are hard to bear.
Way back in March, (that seems so much longer than just a few months ago) I wrote about the power of staying connected through technology, and I’m still thankful for that gift. Without my phone, connecting through Facebook and other online platforms, and email and online meetings for work, I would have been lost. As it is, I’m still a bit lost. But not completely. Technology has seen me through, across the miles.
But it has also shown me its limits. I can’t give or receive hugs, can’t taste food from favorite restaurants, can’t enjoy the beach and the warmth of the sun from the image on my screen. Technology, bless it, is amazing and wonderful. It’s also limited, and nothing will replace humans on the other end of arms’ length, folding hearts and lives in an embrace.
So this is what I’ve learned during these months of pandemic living…we’re an amazing and resourceful bunch, we humans, and even when the enemy is microscopic, silent, and invisible, we’re still up for the challenge.
Some of us are smart enough to develop vaccines in a few short months, and roll them out to the public in less than a year.
Some of us are organized enough to run businesses and teach and do all sorts of things remotely, in ways we never imagined.
Some of us have found ways to keep life moving and essential services flowing, even if it meant taking extreme measures to be safe ourselves, and keep others safe.
Some of us have gone out of our way to be kind, and thoughtful, and try to overcome the angst of this experience, and those people have been rays of warm and wonderful light.
Some of us have worked tirelessly, caring for the sick, the dying, and the recovering. And those people deserve medals and honor, and much more than we’ll ever be able to offer by tangible means of thanks.
Some of us have been lost. Some died, and more will die. They will be mourned and missed.
Some of us have survived the virus, or never got it. And it’s our job to make sure this year isn’t wasted; isn’t, in fact, lost. So many have given their lives in 2020. Surely for those of us who make it through, we owe it to the ones who didn’t, to learn from this, and grow from this, and do better by each other when it’s all over.
I know, even in the midst of hoping for the best that can come out of this experience, there are deep divisions among us. People see the virus and the response to it with different mindsets, and everyone has an opinion about how the whole thing has been managed. Just as we’re divided by politics, so too we’re divided by masks and suspicion of the vaccines. Are they really safe? Was the testing rushed?
I’ve realized, as I sat in meeting after meeting about the vaccines: it all comes down to a faith in humanity. We either believe that the vaccines are the product of well-meaning and scientific work, or we don’t. We believe in the best of people, or we don’t. I know there’s a cynical point of view that many people have on all these issues. We’re very good at being skeptical of the government and big business, and maybe that’s a wise thing, most of the time.
But in this situation, I think it’s most fitting that we work together, get along, and do whatever we can to bring the best of ourselves and others to the forefront. It seems like the least we can do to honor the hundreds of thousands who’ve died. Surely they deserve that! If they’re no longer here to make the world a better place, maybe we can commit to doing that for them? None of these people entered 2020 anticipating death from a virus. But it happened.
When it’s my turn to receive the vaccine, I’ll be ready. I’m thankful it’s available. And I’m making it my personal mission, going forward, to keep those who missed this opportunity in my heart and mind.
When I’m frustrated and short tempered, I’m going to remind myself….it could have been me that didn’t make it through 2020. I’m one of the fortunate ones. It’s up to me to live like it. That doesn’t make me a hero, but it does acknowledge I survived. It means I won, even if it was just luck avoiding an impersonal microscopic threat.
What about you? How has this year shaped you? More important, how will you choose to respond to the forces and events of 2020? We’re coming to the end of this difficult year. Against the backdrop of all the losses of lives, financial hardship, isolation, angst, suspicion, and sadness, what will we take into 2021? What’s next for those of us who won the Covid19 lottery and will see 2021?