Christine Hanna is a CCFP-EM resident at Queen’s University

Picture of Christine HannaI have just completed my first shift as the physician for the COVID-19 assessment clinic in Kingston. And before I return home to my multi-step decontamination routine in the garage, I want to share a few lessons that I have learned.

1. We need each other.

We are not silos. We can’t work alone. As much as we think we are self-sufficient and independent, we really aren’t. We need others to survive and they need us too. This clinic could not run without the incredible nurses, receptionists, security personnel, paramedics, managers, physicians, cleaners, and all those I am ashamed I cannot remember but am aware are vital members. This pandemic, and the response to it, have really demonstrated that we are stronger as a group, not as individuals. I rely on the  providers I work with every day. I rely on those staffing grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations, etc. I’m also relying on all those who are staying home, appropriately self-distancing and self-isolating. I could not do what I do without every single one of these people. And this pandemic has made me acutely aware of the fact that we are so much stronger together.

2. You are entitled to nothing.

This one sounds dark. But really, the universe doesn’t owe you anything. If this pandemic hadn’t been happening, I would have been on a beach on my vacation with some of my best friends. I’m not entitled to a beach vacation (even though I felt like I earned it) or indeed any vacation away. I am not entitled to my finances remaining intact. I’m not entitled to a date at a nice restaurant with my husband. Even thought my heart breaks for them, my friends are not entitled to sit their medical exams at their usual time. I’m not entitled to see my family and friends when I want, where I want. I may not even be entitled to my otherwise good health (or maybe life) when this pandemic is over. COVID-19 has taught me that I am entitled to nothing. And that’s been liberating. Because it’s taught me more gratitude than I could have ever felt otherwise. I feel so grateful to have taken any vacations away. I feel grateful for dinner dates, going out and seeing friends and family, watching movies in the cinema. I feel grateful for these past experiences but also what I currently have. I feel grateful to be able to walk my dog outside, feel the fresh air, eat a hot meal, be able to call my family. I am entitled to nothing so that which I do have, I feel so very grateful for.

3. Kindness is everything.

I think very few things were ever achieved by being hostile. And, at a time like this, kindness goes a long way. Saying a heartfelt and warm thank you to cashiers at the grocery store, or cleaners at the hospital or the assessment centre… it makes a difference. Think of a time you were offered a kind word. Passing it forward is free, and it begets more kindness and goodness and a time like this. It’s one of the few things we can control – so we should.

4. Stepping up is an honour.

I recently spoke with a mentor and explained that I was afraid – for myself, my family, my colleagues. He rightly said that we should be scared. Not being scared would be unusual. The difference is that not everyone can help at the front lines. Everyone has a role to play in this pandemic, but not everyone has that purpose. I do. And that’s an honour. I’m being asked to step up and fill a role at the front line that not many others can. And that’s what makes this a calling. It makes me so proud to be in health care at a time like this – and to be able to work with other amazing folks who are also stepping into the fear and doing their best anyway – because being afraid and being brave are not mutually exclusive.

5. This, too, shall pass.

There has not been a pandemic like this in an era like this under these circumstances. Ever. I have asked colleagues about how they lived and worked through SARS and, although there are lessons to be learned, this is nothing like that. There’s no handbook, and that’s ok. Today I spoke with a very anxious patient who was tearful. He was afraid for his family and his livelihood. But what he was the most afraid of was the not knowing. Not knowing when he’d see his teenage children, when he’d be able to get to work again, and when this would all be over.

We really don’t know how long this will take. I comfort myself by reminding myself that this will end at some point. I am not privileged to know when or how. This will be our reality for a little (or a long) while. But it will not go on forever; it will pass. There will be a day where life will go back to “normal.” We will see our family, friends, go on vacation, a date, write an exam… We will get through this. And when it’s finally over, we will have walked into our new “normal” with an appreciation for every day.

COVID-19 is undoubtedly one of the most challenging and anxiety-provoking situations that I will face as a physician and as a person, but the silver lining is that I know that it’s also taught me some incredible lessons in letting go, being kind and staying grateful.