Covid-19 has turned the world upside down. Everything from schools to international borders are clamped shut. Businesses have shuttered. Store shelves & streets are barren. Even toilet paper is hard to come by.
We’ve all learned new terminology like “social distancing” and “flatten the curve.” Families are under pressure to homeschool their kids and work at the same time. That is, if they haven’t been laid off. And the public is on edge from being isolated, cooped up and drinking from a firehose of anxiety-producing media.
As a physician assistant in the emergency department, I am hyper aware of my role to play in this pandemic. I am torn between the urge to grab an N95 and storm into battle and a desperate desire to hide under the bed until this is all over. It’s not becasuse I fear catching the virus, I assume that is inevitable given what I do for work. But my colleagues and I sense the stampede of sickness and death marching towards us. We are collectively holding our breath in hopes that the curve stays flat. And if it doesn’t, we pray we will be prepared enough, stay healthy enough and have resources enough to fight for our patients’ lives.
I wasn’t thinking about pandemics when I applied to PA school. I wasn’t even thinking about the everyday maladies I handle on any given shift like heart attacks and appendicitis. I just wanted to be skilled enough to compassionately and competently help others in their time of need. But there are times I feel woefully inadequate to care for my patients under normal circumstances, let alone during a global pandemic.
And now I read about Italy stacking bodies, see hospitals flooding with sick patients on the coasts, watch the death toll in the US rise and listen to briefings my hospital leadership on our own disaster escalation plans. I try to keep up with the ever changing guidelines on testing and quarantines. I field texts and calls from worried loved ones who want my take on all this as a medical professional. I review life saving skills I was trained on but have never had to use. I wonder about critical shortages of PPE and how that will affect the stability of our healthcare workforce. Because once we as healthcare providers start getting sick or even exposed and quarantined, then what?
I sit here, scrubs neatly stacked awaiting my next shift, breathing deep at all the unknowns that lie ahead. And I repeatedly ask myself,
What are you going to do?
What I keep coming back to, is actually quite simple. You’d think it would be based on my medical training, but it’s not.
It is found in the words of the Peace Prayer, often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. And it holds whether I’m donning my scrubs or passing out PB&Js to my kids. It holds whether I’m caring for a patient or communicating with my coworkers. And it holds whether I’m posting on social media or texting a friend.
I think it serves as a good reminder to all of us :
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
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In these uncertain times, regardless of our vocation or situation, we all can be instruments of peace.
Let this heart prayer guide our conversations and social media posts. Let’s sow peace instead of panic and unity rather than division. Let’s pray for and encourage our leaders and workers. And not just frontline workers, because they couldn’t do what they do without the backline workers doing what they do. Let’s console those who have lost much and offer words of hope to those who are anxious.
This pandemic has taught all of us that there is much we can’t control. Let’s all remember that sowing peace is something we can.