As I passed by a colleague during my daily walk in this new world of handwashing, social distancing and wearing masks, I exclaimed, “Who would have thought right?” and he replied, “Oh my god Kavita!” That was all we could share before we passed each other. Social distancing would not allow us to talk. When the children were little, I had picked him as their pediatrician because we were in residency together at the same hospital, he did Pediatrics and I did Internal Medicine. He had taken care of the medical problems my three children had. He was sincere and did not overtreat, which is what I liked. I wanted to reach out and talk to him, ask him how his family is doing, how he is coping and whether he is still going in to work but I could not. There were times in the past when I had met him and did not have time to talk but today, I wanted to talk and couldn’t.
Next day I went to work and evaluated my patients over video visits. I helped them cope with anxiety, symptoms, work, and family problems. As they sat home in isolation, I saw fear in their eyes, something I had not seen in many years of practicing as a primary care physician. I saw a mother with symptoms who wanted to live to see her children grow, I saw a man who was isolated in a room with a huge bed and had very little space to move, I saw patients with fevers that were not resolving. I did what I could for them. I gave them hope, I told them I had reviewed their chart and since they had no medical problems, their chances of surviving this infection were high. I urged them to have a positive attitude and to manage their stress with meditation because stress reduced immunity. If they were sick, I gave them notes to stay at home in isolation and when they got well and met CDC criteria, I gave them notes to go back to work. I was their advocate and caretaker. Most importantly, I was there for them and told them that they could call whenever they had a problem and they did.
I went home and had dinner with my husband and children. I asked them how their day was. Two of my children were working from home and one was attending online classes during her second year of college. My daughter’s friend from New York was also staying with us. I thought of the years we had spent without being able to eat dinner together as a family and now because a tiny little virus had invaded our world, we were eating dinner together for the fourth week in a row. When I brought up the topic of the virus, I saw they were scared. As parents, we had protected them from adversity, and now in a few days they had become wise beyond their years. They were cooking, they were cleaning, they were helping in every possible way and I was so thankful. When my husband and I went to bed, we could hear them talking and laughing late into the night and we were thankful they had each other during this difficult time.
I have always maintained that life in the northeast is crazy busy with no time to stare or be mindful. We are all running after some goal or another whether it is a promotion or a raise or new house or new clothes. A tiny virus invades our world and suddenly life comes to a halt. Everything we chased is of no value except the people we took for granted in this journey, our friends, colleagues, and our family. Most importantly, I learned as a physician what medical school had not taught me. That you treat patients with an illness for which there is no cure by being there for them and giving them hope. Very often patients feel better if you acknowledge their problems and reassure them, even if you don’t give medications. This had been the premise of my practice and the virus reinforced it for me. Ironically, a virus so small taught me lessons so big.