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.
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.
I sat on a pew. The room was quiet and solemn and smelled like a box of stale potpourri. I remembered sitting there before. Not on that specific row, or even in that specific room, but I’d been there before. You were beside me, doodling crosses into grids and connecting each grid line with meticulous care to another cross on the page. At the end of a two-hour Sunday service, you’d have a whole maze of crosses connected.
Today you were front and center. You asked for no flowers, but we put them anyway. You didn’t want a fuss of speeches, but we did them anyway. You didn’t want anyone in heels or suits, but we wore them anyway. I imagine you would have liked your hair done differently, and I think you’d prefer our hearts were alert to the gospel and our eyes were open to change.
On the pew, the fears you carried about your legacy – addiction, poverty, success – all found their way into the chaos of my mind. In a second that felt like a lifetime, I understood the language of parental love and how it often translated into criticism through my ears. I wanted to rewrite my childhood and rebuild my memories with the new understanding of love and fear you carried with you everyday. Your words would sound so differently to me now.
I didn’t want kids until that day on the pew. I imagine it sounds weird to say your death inspired life, but it did. You taught me the impact of generational growth, the honor in legacy, the love that stings and shapes change. At your service we talked about the time you worked all day logging woods for a few nickels, the day you walked into a tent revival in 1972, the summer you met Corrine in that diner in San Francisco, and even the day you beat someone up for not paying for a job well done. Isn’t it funny how a life gets remembered? I wonder what you’d like us to say in our stories about you.
I think you’d like to know you are loved, respected, and missed. And you are –