My husband is a second year pulmonary and critical care fellow. His specialty threads the needle for the coronavirus which (I’m sure you all know by now) attacks the respiratory system. He works in a busy ICU in Pittsburgh. He sees the patients who are at their worst – the ones who need to be ventilated or need EBUS or need lots of other care that seems to involve a lot of acronyms that I frankly don’t understand. Lately, he’s been clocking 70-85 hours of work a week. He comes home exhausted and emotionally drained. He throws his scrubs directly into our washing machine, starts a cycle on extra hot, and goes straight to the shower to wash off any potential remnants of the virus that may have hitchhiked home with him from work. While this daily routine happens, our son Townes crawls towards him in a chasing sort of “tell me hi!” way that is both adorable and heart-wrenching at the same time. He doesn’t understand why his dad can’t hold him.
Being the wife to a healthcare worker always has its challenges. No one goes into a marriage with a physician thinking they will have a spouse who works a typical 9am – 5pm job, but being a wife to a physician on the front lines during a pandemic brings about a whole new set of challenges. There’s something about being in a relationship with someone who is saving people’s lives all day that somehow makes the regular 40hr/wk job of a non-medical spouse seem less important, less valuable, and less difficult. Toss in the weight and stress of a global pandemic and that non-medical spouse now becomes the lifeline at home who keeps the family ecosystem functioning.
For the first six months of the pandemic, the responsibility to keep our home life functioning felt rewarding. Managing the day-to-day concerns of our home and family seemed to give Jason the support he needed to get through the week. I felt as though I was playing a very small, behind the scenes role in helping him not get burned out – in turn helping people get the attention and compassionate care they need from their physician. I was (and always am) so proud of my husband. He has a unique ability to connect to his patients personally, no matter their circumstances or age. We can typically both trudge through tough times with no complaints and pick up each other’s slack when the other is drained.
But now, 10 months into this, I’m worn down and growing increasingly frustrated. There has been a lot to adapt to this year with becoming a new mother, balancing a full-time job at home, and being disconnected from friends and family. Jason’s 70+ hour work week only adds stress to the adaptation. His workload adds a pretty heavy weight on my shoulders that has slowly morphed into my bones for the unforeseeable future. Sometimes, I feel like a single mom on a foreign island, and recently I’ve noticed myself shift into a person who lives with genuine anger, frustration, and fear.
A lot of times, my anger and frustration is directed towards random people whom I barely know – like people on social media who claim this pandemic isn’t real. I’ve found myself recently responding to posts I never would have entertained in the past. I am offended, frustrated, and amazed at how inconsiderate and selfish people’s actions have become. Perhaps one of the more surprising things about all of this is that Jason doesn’t share my frustration. It doesn’t bother him that he works tirelessly to save people’s lives who didn’t believe that this virus was real. It doesn’t affect him to hear people demand medications that have become popular from obscure propaganda and have no scientific backing. He has a sort of natural ability to just continue to help – no matter the circumstances. Meanwhile, I’m in a tireless fit of rage over people broadcasting their feigned knowledge of the situation to the world. At first, I chalked my defense to these claims up as a way to defend my husband’s work, but now I realize they are a bratty plea for someone to see the struggle our little family has gone through. A plea for someone to recognize the individual lives that are shifting and working tirelessly without praise, without support, and without a collective belief in the threat they face daily. This isn’t a hoax, the numbers aren’t inflated, and no one is choosing to live the challenges this pandemic brings for a political agenda.
This isn’t one of those posts that ends with a happy, uplifting tone. I’m in a rough season of life along with so many around the world. I live 18 hours from home. My local support circle is my husband, who is also playing the supportive role to so many patients and their families. I am exhausted. I want to sleep. And I feel so fucking bratty for wanting all of those little luxuries while numerous people around the world are experiencing worse. This post is for solidarity. To tell the other spouses of medical workers that I am with you, and I hope we can all come out of this together with love and compassion.
It’s 8:00am and I’m listening to The Daily’s new podcast about COVID-19 while you play on your musical mat. The song to your play mat is on repeat. The words change a bit, but it’s got a sort of bouncy beat that always hits on the rhyme. I know the lyrics by heart, but I mix them up a lot because of their bland adaptability.
In case you should every read this and get the urge to jog your infant memory, there’s a lot of singing about animals playing. My favorite line to chime in on is, “Maybe you – could be – a purple monkey in a bubble gum tree.” That line sounds oddly sexual to me?? I can’t understand why, but you know – it’s got that Disney feel to it.
The bouncy beat is a strange contrast to the news Michael Barbaro is reporting on the recent spike in New York City’s death toll and President Trump pulling funding from the World Health Organization.
The world is a crazy place right now. You’re going to hear that phrase a lot as you grow up. It usually comes from people who reminisce on “the good ole’ days” and think every new invention brings humans one step closer to becoming robots. I’m not one of those people, so you can trust me when I say it. 138,487 people across the world have died from COVID-19; 28,593 people have died in the U.S. alone. Women are giving birth without their partners in the room, families are saying their last goodbye to loved ones via FaceTime, morgues are running out of space for dead bodies, and every event everywhere has been canceled (school, March Madness, CHURCH, and even the summer olympics).
Your dad works in a COVID unit at the hospital. He wears a surgical mask when he holds you, and I am forever dousing our apartment down with disinfectant spray. I kept hand sanitizer in every bag, pocket, basket, or crevasse I find. I spend a lot of time reading the news and even more time deciphering infographics about COVID stats. There’s a shortage on toilet paper, of all things, and I can’t buy a packet of yeast even with a million dollars. I go to the store once every two weeks, and when I get home I strip my clothes to shower immediately. Our family can’t visit, and I worry about how you’ll bond with everyone when the Stay Home orders are lifted. It’s a weird time to be a new mother.
Your coos are getting louder now, and your eyes scan the room in a manner that suggests you know a lot more about this place than I do. Your nursery has become a sort of Secret Garden in the midst of this scary pandemic. Soft stuffed bunnies, shelves full of sweet children’s books, and the smell of Dreft are under a constant glow from the thick yellow curtain that hides the flood light outside. I like to think this is how your thoughts look now. I hope you don’t feel my stress or hear me expel the litany of worries I share to friends over the phone.
Anyway, I have to answer emails now. I’m working from home with the rest of the world, so that means I get to hold you in my left arm while I type with my right. It takes a lot longer to get things done this way but the good news is – we’ve got no reason to rush.
This is a tale about George and, as you may have guessed by now, a shore. George is just like you and me. He doesn’t have super powers. He cannot fly, and he doesn’t even have night vision (except of course when he uses his night vision goggles).
George lives on a shore. Do you know what a shore is? I’ll tell you what I know about a shore just to be sure.
A shore is where land stops and water begins, which makes the certainty of a shore hard to see for sure. There’s really no clear line or path on a shore, because the water’s tide changes the shore’s perimeter every few counts of a “Mississippi”. Do you count in Mississippi’s, too? Maybe that’s just something people down in Mississippi do.
Anyway, I guess a shoreline is a pretty simple concept, but for George there is an awful lot of trouble that comes along with living on a shore. I can’t think of all the confusing bits right now, but I can tell you the most significant trouble is George’s inability to ever be, you know, sure.
I heard George say a shore is like a fringe – loose, unformed, and always on the mend. Living on the shore means he’s mostly in flux. He gets pushed back and rebuilds, back and rebuilds, back and rebuilds. Sometimes though, really scary storms come through and erode the shore’s border so much that he has to build from scratch on a new shore a few feet back from where he began. Does that make sense to you? I’m sure.
Well, George got so scared of the shore that he moved to a place off the coast of France. It’s on the water and everything, just like Mississippi, but in France they call the shoreline a Riviera.
He says he’s happy there, but I’m pretty sure any shore — no matter what you call it — is still a shore.
Three years ago I finally cut the crap and set a real New Year’s resolution:
Do what you’re too afraid to say out loud.
In 2015, I realized I kept tacking on trite goals of weight loss and clean eating habits instead offocusing on what I needed to improve. I get it, a new year gives motivation to restart or erase bad habits, but why did I keep seeing the earth’s move around the sun as a clean slate for my body mass? A new year is a continuation of life’s progress, a building block, a stepping stone to the rest of your life. Why would I tether each step forward with a bitchy list of restrictions?
Here’s a look at my resolutions through the years:
2009: Cut out soda
2010: No more processed foods
2011: Eat red meat once a month
2012: No more white carbs
2013: Throw away the scale, but also cut out carbs, sugar and food in general
2015: Food is not the enemy
I’m not saying weight loss isn’t a valid goal for a new year, but I am questioning why it matters. For me, the years of body-centered resolutions became my own way of putting off what I was too afraid to go after:
I can’t be a writer right now, but I can refuse this ham sandwich and eat kale.
I read an article years ago that said, “If you want to be a runner, start telling people you are a runner.” Sure, that seems like a simple enough concept now, but at the time – the line came packaged with its own group of white doves and a dramatic omniscient melody. That shit registered in my head. Was this guy saying I could just say what I wanted to do?
Voicing my dream aloud provided some weird power (aka peer pressure, motivation, public humiliation) to actually fight for it, but more than anything – it let me see that the dream was real. That somewhere, behind all the list of things I thought might make me
I recently heard someone say, “they belonged” in New York. She didn’t mean she deserved to be here, rather she couldn’t survive anywhere else. After roaming across the country at a young age, she landed in East Village and fell trap to its charm. She’s been here 15+ years and now calls NYC home. When I met her, she was celebrating the anniversary of her move to the city. While she basked in the empowerment of her growth and independence, my heart hurt. I felt an urge to exonerate my roots – a strange deviation from my usual mindset.
Sometimes roots feel like a trap. They meander around each other like a snake – coiling in a stationary wheel and wrapping with it a wistful nostalgia that you belong. Some people stay – some escape; nature has no preference. Life still grows from the dirt, leaves wither and bloom, branches break and rebuild. Sure, to anyone in the whimsical leaves, the roots are stifling, but that’s because you know their power. You have explored the crisp air, experienced the roughest part of seasons, and learned to mold and reform in the feeble stability of your freestanding stem. You are adventurous in your careless evergreen, but the roots are charming and infectious. They are you; you are one in the same.
There is comfort in the absolutism of my roots. I understand now that they are part of who I am, and my desire to roam is a desire to expand – not escape. Because there is no escaping. The past is where it belongs. It is planted as a means to stabilize your future. Growing into something wilder doesn’t mean you are any less you, you are just a little bit more.
I woke up the day after the election to a text from a friend that said, “I didn’t think this was possible.” I opened CNN, along with all of my social media accounts, to make sure this was really happening. I thought for sure someone was going to let us all know something disastrous happened at the polls. Maybe they miscounted 49% of the votes?
As the reality of a Trump presidency started to breathe itself into existence, I set out to blame everyone. I blamed the third party voters for wasting their ballot. I blamed the black community for not showing up like they did for Obama. I blamed the DNC who ruined us when they pushed for Clinton instead of Bernie. I blamed the Christians who voted against abortions, but for misogyny and rape. I blamed the working class in America who wanted change – no matter who gave it to them. I blamed the liberal media for deceiving us into thinking Trump didn’t stand a chance. I blamed SNL for sensationalizing Trump’s persona by mocking him, subsequently drawing more press and attention to his campaign. I blamed Fox News for turning him into someone relatable; someone a guy could chat with in a locker room.
I turned into everything I hated about Trump, blaming everyone but myself. Because after all – I was the progressive thinker who voted Hillary.
In my state of naivety, I scrolled through Instagram for a break from the news, but my heartache deepened. In my feed I saw Khloe Kardashian bragging that her Lip Kit sold out in 6 seconds, I scrolled through selfies of intelligent women with Snapchat puppy-dog noses and flower crowns, spotted Kyle Richards advertising a hair vitamin with over 10k likes, and watched Kate Upton share her secrets to “the perfect brow”. Is this what ruined us? Do we not believe in ourselves? Are we too caught up in the hype of media, the hype of selfies, of being pretty? Are we too afraid to think independently? Are we afraid of taking charge? Are we afraid of being powerful, instead of sexy? How else could 53% of female voters elect this man? Do they not know their own value?
I wanted to throw my phone across the room, or anywhere that could magically make the female race look more like it does in my head.
I am not insinuating that the state of our country rests solely in the hands of our Instagram feed, but if you’ve been wondering what is keeping us from being seen as the next president of the United States – It’s your selfie, it’s my selfie, and it’s our need to promote our beauty more than the authoritative person that lives behind what the world wants us to be. Why is this how we choose to represent who we are? Why is this the norm for women? If we want to be perceived as powerful, we need to start representing that in our feeds instead of doe-eyed selfies with porcelain skin. If we want the media to stop placing us on an impossible standard – we need to stop trying to meet that standard. There are lots of reasons we lost and there are copious people we can fault, but it is hard to deny the fact that we lost because Hillary Clinton was compared against an ideal version of what society thinks a woman should be. She lost and we will continue to lose until that depiction of women is shifted.
When the results started rolling in Tuesday I felt threatened. I felt lied to, betrayed and even undermined by a nation that could actually vote and side with a man so bitter towards progress and equality. On Wednesday, when I had to continue on with my life, everything seemed pointless. Why go to school when no one will ever see me as a leader? Why educate myself when I’ll only ever be seen as a number between 1 & 10? This isn’t the life I voted for.
This election, if nothing else, has given me a strange urgency to tell you your voice is powerful. You are powerful on your own accord. You don’t need me, or any sensationalized media to derive self worth. I hope you know that.
Trump winning is not the female race’s fault, but maybe we can take this election as a growing pain that pushes us to a higher, more authoritative mindset. I’m not saying we can’t feel beautiful, dress well, or wear makeup. We are beautiful women, and I love the desire to express that, but we need to focus on flouting the image 49% of the United States have towards women. This win says a lot about our nation, about our gender equality, and about the female race not being taken seriously. It’s time we change our mindset. It’s time we change the mindset of everyone who can’t see past the girl. We are powerful. Let’s make everyone else think that too.