Valerie Brooke, MD
It's been a long time since I've written, too long for sure, but a lot has happened in my personal and professional life in the last three months. Right after I got infected with COVID, ten days later to be exact, I hopped on a plane and used my passport for the first time. Back in 2020 I had scheduled a two week trip to Italy to celebrate my 50th birthday. My husband Ronando and I had planned to visit three areas of Italy, staying several days in each city for time to explore the local culture, food, and wine. We were going to start in Rome, drive to Tuscany (and stay in a castle!), then finish off the trip by getting on a boat to Elba island, the very same island Napoleon's exiled in 1814-15. We love history and what better place to visit than Italy!
And then COVID... I don't need to say anything more. Italy would not be the first stamp in my passport. I was sad to cancel the three airBNBs, knowing the owners would end up losing more than just my payment. Fast forward three years, countless hours at the hospital, four vaccinations, and now my first COVID infection, and I was ready for a break. This time Costa Rica was my destination. The previous summer, after a particularly traumatic day at work, I had impulsively registered for a retreat to Costa Rica. The week would be free of alcohol, full of creativity and writing, and surrounded by the rainforest, with a group of eight other like minded women.
To say that the trip was transformative is an understatement. I did an incredible amount of healing, laughter, introspection, and play. It's taken me four months to write a memoir about my experience, my words interspersed with incredible photos of the vibrant life of the jungle. I still remember the sights, sounds, and experiences I had that week, like they just happened yesterday. I will never forget.
I returned from my retreat with more clarity about who I am and what is important to me. How I can live my values in the workplace. How I can have integrity with my words, not take things personally, not make assumptions, and always do my best, things I learned from reading The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. I learned new habits with the power to decrease my suffering. I still have hard days of course, days when I wonder how much longer I can work in healthcare, but for the most part, my interactions with patients and supportive co-workers still sustain me.
I do not know when my next vacation will be. Changes are coming up in my workplace and in my life. I do not know what the future will bring. What I do know is that I can find small moments of restoration every day. I can turn away from my computer and eat lunch at my table, rather than eating al desko. I can close my eyes and take a deep breath. I can stretch my neck and shoulders. I can check in with a close work friend and ask how their family is. And if I really need it, I can go to the quiet room and take five minutes to meditate. I don't necessarily need a vacation in another country to find restoration, though I am dreaming about which country is going to be the next stamp in my passport.