The COVID-19 diaries part four: “Our new normal”

The COVID-19 diaries part four: “Our new normal”

As Detroit recovers from the coronavirus crisis, family medicine physician Asha Shajahan provides The Indian SCENE her final dispatch from the frontlines.

Photos courtesy of Asha Shajahan
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This is the final installment of Dr. Asha Shajahan’s essay series on being a healthcare worker during a pandemic. Read the first, second and third installments.

Day Nine: Gratitude

Social distancing was getting to me and I was craving to go out to dinner with friends to my favorite Italian restaurant for some quality carbonara. I pulled into the hospital and saw a slew of reporters. A crowd of people was outside. This can’t be good, I thought. I wondered what had happened, who had died, what protest was occurring. I parked my car and walked apprehensively to the hospital entrance.

“What’s going on?” I asked a fellow doctor who was standing and watching the camera crew. The local police and fire department had organized a parade  Soon, car after car drove by honking their horns. People were waving out of their car windows with signs that read THANK YOU. It was a simple gesture but you should’ve seen the amusement on all the healthcare workers’ faces. They were laughing and smiling; it was a few minutes of distraction, joy and appreciation. One may think extending gratitude to someone is a small gesture, but the impact of any act of generosity is immense on one’s morale and psyche.

After about 50 cars had gone through, I returned to the hospital. “FYI, an Italian restaurant has dropped off dinner for everyone in the cafeteria,” the security guard informed me. I was stunned.  My fancy Italian dinner was waiting for me after all. Although it wasn’t carbonara, it was much better than the snack I had packed. I was so grateful. As an important mental health principle, the benefits of gratitude extend far beyond what we may imagine: it reduces blood pressure, improves sleep, boosts endorphins, improves self-esteem, increases optimism and decreases depression. I live my life by the wisdom of the French philosopher Simone De Beauvoir. She describes true generosity as a state when, “you give your all, and yet you always feel as if it costs you nothing.”

Week 5: The Last Night Shift

It was incredibly quiet.  There were only ten COVID-19 patients in the hospital and only four in the Intensive Care Unit, a huge decline from when I started working five weeks ago. The hospital atmosphere was completely different. Foaming in and out, masking up, symptom checking didn’t seem like a weird inconvenience to enter the hospital as it first had.  It had become routine. We were becoming adjusted to our new normal.  They say it takes 21 days to break habit and 66 days to build a new one. It had been 35 days since I started working COVID coverage and I was well on my way to accepting the new habits of healthcare.

I had my antibodies tested for COVID-19 and was pleasantly surprised that the results were negative. The personal protective equipment (PPE) really does work. I felt new respect for and confidence in the armor that defended me on every shift.

As I was rounding, I heard laughter coming from the nurses’ station. The stations weren’t abandoned anymore. Nurses were gathered, with appropriate distance, talking, joking and laughing. I hadn’t seen that kind of joy in weeks. Hospital rooms were dark and sterile. Once full with COVID patients, the hospital was practically empty, void of patients. What a difference social distancing makes.

Things were slowly getting back to normal, but a new normal. I had survived the shifts I was so fearful of. I learned so much in these few short weeks; I think we all have. We have learned about humanity and about ourselves. We are stronger than we know, we are kinder than we think, and we are resilient in the face of adversity.

I received an email stating this would be my last COVID coverage shift until further notice due to the dramatic drop in patient numbers. I literally jumped and audibly cheered. Walking out of my last 12 hour night shift, my smile was ear to ear.

At home, I peeled off my scrubs and jumped in the shower. I was overwhelmed with a feeling of victory, one I hadn’t experienced in a very long time. Although we are far from conquering COVID-19, the steps we were taking of social distancing, wearing masks, and disinfecting seem to be working. As the warm water rained on my tired face, I breathed a sigh of relief.

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1 thought on “The COVID-19 diaries part four: “Our new normal””

  1. Peter Coomar

    Awesome! Absolutely incredible, heartfelt, piece of writing. Never knew doctors were philosophers and writers too. God bless and stay safe doctor! Salute for the courage you show with care and compassion.

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