Valerie Brooke, MD
Surrendering to the Surge
The sense of dread in the air inside the hospital last week was paired with the thick smoke and ashes falling from the multiple fires in the surrounding mountainous areas. It was a suffocating pressure outside, matched only by the reinstated requirement to wear N95 masks and face shields at work. Yes, COVID has returned to our community and hospitals and with it both a new anxiety as well as the PTSD from last year’s surges.
So much sadness and powerlessness abound. The local fires, very high local COVID transmission and hospitalization rates, the oppressive above average heat, not to mention all the chaos in the faraway places of the world: Taliban taking over Kabul Afghanistan, the massive 7.2 magnitude earthquake in Tahiti, as well as the rapidly increasing cases and deaths from the delta variant all over the world. How to take it all in, take care of myself, show up at work with energy and compassion?
I am learning it is possible to hold two truth at once. I want to stay abreast of what is happening in the world and in my community, and at the same time I want to bury my head in the sand and watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer when I get home from work (she fights the darkness and wins!). I am angry towards my patients who don’t believe in the COVID vaccine and I’m also concerned for their health and well-being. I feel small moments of joy when I connect with my patients and I’m also tired of going to work. I see so much darkness in the world and I also see small sparks of light.
I plan on doing something different this year while navigating through this third COVID surge. I plan on staying present. Showing up to work and to my life, feeling and managing whatever it is that comes up that moment, that hour, or that day. Fear, frustration, rage, grief, hope, joy, and happiness. It’s all there, every day; I am learning to pay attention to it, to allow the moments of joy to bubble up through the pain.
Yesterday one of my patients shared that she loves rock music, so we listened together to a band I had never heard of before. The day before my patient shared with me his love of playing golf, and despite him having to stay in his room isolated because of his COVID infection, the therapists brought in a putter and golf ball to work on his balance and coordination. And tomorrow I hope to say something to a patient that will open up a small crack in their shell, to allow the light of recovery to sneak in.
I’m learning to stop resisting what is, a lesson that keeps coming up, year after year after year. I’m trying to surrender to the fires, the COVID surge, the sadness and grief, and the limitations of my aging body. I’m shifting my prospective from one of giving up, to one of giving in; surrendering is not the same as quitting. Surrendering is allowing what is outside of my control to unfold as it will. There will be gifts on the other side of this difficult time, for myself, for my patients, for my community and for the world. The place I am on right now was circled on the map by a divine force greater than myself. A phoenix will arise from the ashes.