I stopped writing during Covid. Even my journals are empty. I had a strong desire as a physician to “do something” so I worked Urgent Care. There has been some discussion about the 1918 flu pandemic not showing up in much literature of the time, with the exception of Pale Rider, by Laura Spinney. I wonder if most of us living through a pandemic simply need to take mental breaks. I know I did. I would obsess over the information being shared in the medical universe, spending hours researching the most up to date information, to then feel completely drained and unable to expend much thought on anything else.

I’m now used to the rhythm of Covid, the ebb and flow, the lulls and surges. There is a pulse to the virus within a community. But, initially, there was so much fear and adrenaline. My initial fear was replaced by a sort of fascination as we shared real-time information and adjusted protocols across the world, teaching and learning best practices from each other. The institutional guidance was haphazard and flawed, so social media groups formed and we received our education from each other. There was at least a camaraderie within the medical profession for a while, which is unusual.

And, in the safety of those groups, the very real fears and threats were shared. Physicians were reprimanded for speaking out against the inability to adequately protect themselves and their patients. Initially, physicians were told by hospital systems to not wear N95 masks, many of which were donated from friends’ garages, to avoid scaring patients and non clinical staff. I fully participated in the PPE black market to secure supplies for myself and colleagues. Over time hospitals began sterilizing N95 masks in bulk to be grabbed and reused for the next shift. And, no, you didn’t get to keep your own mask. I had paper bags numbered 1 through 5 and would alternate bags each day to allow several days for viral particles to die before rewearing. We all stripped as soon as we were home and rushed to shower off the contamination for fear of infecting family. And many stayed alone, isolated away from their families to protect them from the virus.

I joined in the collective sigh of relief when the vaccines became available. Awed by the science that made it happen so rapidly and then dumbfounded by the politicized way the world reacted. I had a lot of generalized angst, a clench in my chest, so I chose to give up anything that would cause me additional anxiety. I lightened the material I read and the movies or shows I watched. Schitt’s Creek became our go to show, and for a short time, I only read the books that made me laugh. I did not want deep thoughts and I did not want any angst over a plot in a novel, I wanted the happy ending. So, I pretty much stopped writing and reflecting.

I found it a challenge to write about Covid or the general fear and unrest of the time, but writing about anything else felt too trivial. So, I tried to hold onto the things that felt good. To be in front of patients and address their needs, you have to keep your own fear and outrage in check. I was able to do that by shutting a little part of my brain off for a while.

Now that we are post the unvaccinated wave of Delta and toward the end of the mutated wave of Omicron, I finally have a little mental energy to spare. As we await the Omicron BA.2 variant of concern, I feel more at ease. I feel confident we can handle the next surge and I am ready to tackle some writing and I may even expend some mental energy reading a few books without a happy ending.

2 thoughts on “Pandemic Brain

  1. You’re such a great writer. So glad you’re back. Thank you for all you did to help those in the hospitals!

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