I’ve been missing those relationships that could be classified as ‘weak ties’ in my life since the COVID-19 pandemic all but eliminated my day-to-day interactions with strangers in elevators, coffee shop lines, and the hospital cafeteria. But I was not aware of how much I missed them until I was pleasantly surprised with free coffee at the hospital recently. An anonymous donor had provided coffee and tea for Mount Sinai Hospital staff during the pandemic, a gift that enabled me to feel that someone – a stranger – cared. This generous act boosted both my caffeine levels and my sense of gratitude, in turn inspiring me to seek out and maintain the loose ties with fellow learners, supervisors, and colleagues through generosity.
As a medical learner, I have experienced changes and also surprises in social interactions with strangers in the workplace. Barriers in both physical and virtual spaces include hospital cafeteria seating closures, new dots on the floor marking where we can stand, and virtual grand rounds with a screen of named black tiles. Physical distancing is important and yet has limited significant opportunities to build new spontaneous connections. An NPR Shortwave podcast, “What we’re missing, by missing strangers now,” shares more about the benefits on mood and our sense of identity when interacting with strangers. However, unexpected encounters can also provide this sense of genuine connection from strangers, and even with patients. While working on a shift in the Emergency department, a patient gifted me with a handwritten poem seen here that not only made me smile but also left my heart warmed and felt like a hug.
“A smile can never be brought or sold for any amount of gold
It means nothing…It has no value…Only when it is given freely
When given freely it can change the life and heart of anyone who has nothing left in life to smile about
Thank you for keeping a smile on my face”
Gary Chapman’s book on the 5 Love Languages reflects on how we give and receive love through physical touch, quality time, acts of service, words of affirmation, and gifts. As frontline workers and learners, we have fundamentally changed the way we work with patients and colleagues while continuing to build human connection. May we be more generous with our words of affirmation, our acts of service, and gifts.
Through this pandemic, I am learning to GIVE MORE:
SPEAK MORE words of encouragements and complements.
SMILE MORE with our eyes.
GIFT MORE laughter and care.
HEAR MORE with our heart.
SHOW MORE of our emotions, vulnerabilities, challenges, and triumphs.
Now, more than ever, when burnout is experienced by 51% of postgraduate medical trainees in North America, may we be generous in the way we engage with those around us. May we find our creative ways to show warmth within our loose ties – whether it be a gifted cup of coffee, kind words, or a heartfelt smile – that can bring us closer together even when physically apart.