Yesterday I drove through the fog and rain to Phoenix to see my breast cancer surgeon. Due to a series of mildly unfortunate events, I couldn’t play music or even listen to the radio, which left me alone in my thoughts. As I drove, I thought of other doctor appointments I’d had. A couple years before my cancer diagnosis, I’d had a weird mammogram, which led to a biopsy. The results of that test were delivered to me by phone. Good news often is. And so when I was told to come see the doctor whose office had ordered a second biopsy, a couple years later, I already knew that the results were not good. Even so, when that doctor delivered my results to me, his face buried in my file, without a greeting or even eye contact, I felt like I was drowning. I found another doctor, the one I was on my way to see now. I remember how, at my first appointment, she hugged me and Dan, such a contrast to the previous doctor.
For this current appointment, though, there were no hugs, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. She stood at a distance and “air hugged” me. After my examination, she asked if I was comfortable with this being my last appointment with her. With no further evidence of cancer these past seven years, she felt that my primary care physician was more than capable; that her specialized skills weren’t required. I agreed. We chatted a bit more, mostly about Covid-19 and how it’s affecting her patients. We both wondered aloud about when it would end and how it would end. And then we “air hugged” one last time and I left her office.
Leaving her office for the last time, I felt a strong sense of gratitude, like I’ve felt over the last several years. Usually, I’ve treated myself to a lunch with my sister or my cousin afterwards, or a long hike in the desert mountains. But this time was different. I drove home in the silence, thinking about my own experiences with illness and wellness, and about the lives affected by this pandemic.
I thought of the patients of my doctor, who have surgeries scheduled for today, but who probably won’t be admitted to the hospital because their last chemo date was less than four weeks ago.
I thought of my students, who are in various stages of coping, trying to make sense of this new normal we’ve been thrust into.
I wondered about how I will be able to deliver content to my students online without them having too much screen time.
I thought of exchange students who were in my classes who are being sent home, without being able to say goodbye to the friends they’ve made.
I thought of all the people around the world whose incomes are suddenly zero because their jobs are on hold.
I thought of friends and family who are medical professionals and the stress and challenges that they will meet in the coming days and weeks.
Madeleine asked me the other day if 9/11 had a similar sense of palpable fear. It’s been interesting to think about these two events, but they are so different from one another. Yes, there was so much fear with 9/11 – and remember the anthrax mailings – but there was also a strong sense of unity as a nation. This time, there is no one to direct our anger at, regardless of how much the president tries. This time, there is less sense of community because some of us are not doing the right things, like hoarding toilet paper.
But there is also such beauty and kindness and generosity.
I thought of videos I’ve seen of Spanish and Italian communities sharing music – which might be humankind’s most beautiful creation – on their balconies during this time of lockdown.
I’ve been the very grateful recipient of countless other teachers’ generous sharing of lesson plans, platforms, and ideas on ways to connect with our students.
I thought of people sharing recipes, games, and silly activities to do while we are stuck at home.
I thought about all the humor that is being shared and all the appreciation for medical professionals, teachers, first responders.
I keep thinking of The Truman Show, and the question on everyone’s minds:
How’s it going to end?