COVID-19 & the permission to rest

“This is going to sound strange,” my care provider said, “but you have COVID lungs.”

Relieved, I replied, “That doesn’t sound strange at all.”

In late January, my whole family came down with what we thought was a terrible cold. It bowled over three-quarters of the household; me, worst of all. No matter what I did, took, or tried, I couldn’t catch my breath. Continue reading “COVID-19 & the permission to rest”

could have been saved

“You were in a coma for two days, Deborah. I was so scared.”

Whenever my mom said these words, she spoke with such calm that I couldn’t really imagine her then-terror. Besides, I’d lived, hadn’t I? Wasn’t my surviving always inevitable?

It was only when it came time to vaccinate my own son that I began comprehending the gravity of my mom’s words. That I began to understand how absolutely terrifying it must have been for her, in those moments when she held my tiny, non-responsive body and prayed, with no guarantee whatsoever that I would survive.

When it came time for my Li’l D to receive his DTaP vaccination, fear flooded me; my son’s doctor, immediately noting that something in my demeanor had changed, asked me what was up. I told her that I’d had a serious adverse reaction to the DTP vaccine when I was a child. I told her that I knew it had since been reworked to be much more safe, but that the knowing didn’t feel very comforting to me just then. Continue reading “could have been saved”

to reach for the sun

A few weeks ago, my six-year-old and I planted seeds in paper cups.

We stuck the paper cups outside and committed to watering them. Daily, ish.

With such a vague “commitment,” we watered them every few days. In the intense heat of August in SoCal, the seeds failed not only to thrive, but to show even the merest hints of growth.

Last weekend, my six-year-old and I planted new seeds in paper cups.

We planted green bean, watermelon, and tomato seeds. We committed to watering these each and every evening. Continue reading “to reach for the sun”

to be: healed

In late April, I read about an ER doctor in Manhattan who had committed suicide. Her father said, “She tried to do her job, and it killed her.”

I tweeted a link to the New York Times article with the below text:

The MD BIL who persuaded me to pursue #publichealth instead of social work told me #moralinjury could kill me:
being deprived, systemically, of the ability to do the right thing.

This doctor was—IS—a hero.
Had we better systems,
she could have remained a *living* hero.

I followed up that

The one person still in my life since I was born is a nurse. She told me she’s trying to survive these days without serious trauma.

I told her it sounded like she was describing trying to survive moral injury. She said that was exactly it.

Today, I saw on Twitter that the doctor about whom I read in April had been profiled in the New York Times. I read the article with aching heart, after which I tweeted a link with the words:

“Still, when the casualties of the coronavirus are tallied, Dr. Breen’s family believes she should be counted among them.” After reading this, I agree. Completely.

I followed up that

Recently texted dear family friends, married nurses, on being reminded “once again, how much care and fortitude are involved in nursing. I am so grateful for you & so absolutely livid that you are, it feels, being punished for your caring. You deserve better.” Dr. Breen did, too.

What’s funny about my April post is that I called Dr. Breen “a hero.”

I don’t believe in heroes. As I wrote three years ago, I believe in hero-ing. That’s to say, I believe in “hero” as a verb, not a noun. I wrote about this last month:

“hero” not as a binary trait attainable by a few
but a verb achievable
every day, by
everyone
still
living.

When I wrote these words in June, I wasn’t thinking about the dangers to so-called “heroes” of using “hero” as a noun. I just loathed how hero-as-noun deprived most of humanity, unjustly and potentially catastrophically, the opportunity to hero out of the blue today or tomorrow, should such opportunity arise.

(Does humanity benefit more from heroes, or from everyone understanding they may be called upon, and may choose to, hero today, no matter what they did every other day before today?)

Today, I began to see the personal dangers of doctor-hero-as-noun thanks to one in a thread of tweets inspired by the NYT’s piece on Dr. Breen. Wrote Dr. Esther Choo:

I think the “hero” rhetoric, as well intentioned as it was (seriously, we appreciated the compliment) also makes it harder to admit feelings of despair, defeat, and fatigue.

I still haven’t quite worked out my definition of what it means to hero. I think it comes down to being willing to improve someone’s life at potential expense of one’s own, but that’s a very, very tentative working definition.

I don’t believe in heroes. I do, however, believe that some people might be particularly inclined to hero. I think it’s okay to acknowledge that, while not denying anyone else the joy and privilege of heroing.

And so, when I think of Dr. Breen today, I think, “Man, did she know how to hero!”

I just wish … we had systems that had enabled her to hero on her own behalf.

If we did, she might be alive to hero again today, and tomorrow.

If we want to enable more heroing, we need better systems:

systems that enable people to acknowledge, without punishment, when they are hurting,

to hero twenty times one day and then barely be able to crawl out of bed the next fifty,

to love and appreciate people whether or not they ever,

one single time,

are able

to hero.

When we acknowledge that everyone, everywhere is capable of hero-ing,
we take a load off those we currently expect to be “heroes”—
by evidencing understanding that being human is messy,
and hard, and hurt-filled, and confusing
(on the best of days),
and giving everyone a chance to not only hurt
but to be the inspiration
for hurts, at long last,
finally, given a chance
to be:
healed.

the illusion of health

You know that nightmare
where you have to take a Calculus final
even though you didn’t realize you were signed up for Calculus,
and didn’t attend a single class?

I had something like that, last night …
except, appropriately, it was about face masks.

I was perusing earrings in cozy, dimly lit second-hand collectives in San Francisco. I’d just found a beautiful pair of enormous red, yellow, and green earrings when I looked up and realized:

There were dozens of people in my vicinity, and no one was wearing a face mask! Not even me!

Panicked, I dropped the earrings and fled.

Then, I’m sitting on a bus, as I did so many times in both childhood and law school. Continue reading “the illusion of health”

safer

On Monday morning, I spent three hours writing about cultivating empathy in the face of COVID-19.

By Monday evening, I was ranting to my husband about a particular group of people,

a divergence that didn’t amuse me until Tuesday morning.

For months now, I’ve half-heartedly worked on making a habit of morning “RPMs”: Read, Pray, Meditate. The days I begin thusly are often the most manageable of all, a fact that isn’t always persuasive to my 4 a.m. self: “Do I really want to RPM, or do I want to just stay here in bed and half-doze until the kids wake up? I mean, both of these things are good for me, right?”

Until this week, half-dozing has tended to win this morning battle within myself. Fortunately, I chose wisely this Tuesday morning, grumbling as I climbed out of bed and went to find my healing books. Continue reading “safer”

extinguished

As a longtime professional contract negotiator,

and now-adult daughter of a profoundly impoverished, stigmatized single mom

who died because she feared the costs of U.S. doctor visits,

and newfound public health student,

I’ve been thinking a lot about

the word “deaths.”

A few times daily, I check the L.A. Times for its updates on measurable local COVID-19 impacts. I then check The Guardian for its broader US coverage.

Each time I close these pages, the word “deaths” lingers with me. I’m disturbed by how passive and neutral is the phrasing compared to the reality, which is that Continue reading “extinguished”

there in love

Waiting in line at the bookstore a couple of months ago, I saw copies of Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal.

I’d checked out the audiobook from my local library before, but I’d never listened for more than two or three minutes before falling asleep. I’d later awaken to some random excerpt, think that’s lovely, and then tumble right back to sleep.

Seeing a copy of the book in print in line that day, I thought I might enjoy actually reading it—all the way through, from its beginning to its final word.

Until finishing Being Mortal last week, I’d read three or four pages at a time.

Having spent the years 2016 through 2018 plowing through a couple of non-fiction books a week, I’ve slowed down when reading those books that touch my heart. In a world currently so full of fear and condemnation, I want to touch in frequently with those things—those words, those hearts, those authors, those places—that fill me with the wonder of being deeply, achingly human. Continue reading “there in love”