The Essential Worker

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I was talking to a patient the other day while we passed in the hallway. I had a mask on, she didn’t. She was in the office that morning to get her routine fasting labs. I asked her if she was going stir crazy at home in quarantine yet. Her chest puffed out a little, her face lifted, a smile curled at the edge of her mouth, “I’m essential.” There was a pride in her response that I had never considered. It stayed with me. Her job was in manufacturing and she was proud to be needed.

I have had a job where I am needed for so long, that I don’t even think of it as a positive. In fact, being needed can be a burden and I have to be diligent in ensuring that people do not take advantage of me, use and abuse me, take more from me than I have to give. I have to draw lines in the sand that can not be crossed so that I can continue to do my job without facing burnout. I have learned to preserve my down time so that I can be refreshed to continue taking care of patients when I’m needed.

I watch my healthcare brothers and sisters on the front lines and I know how it feels. There’s too much need. Too much death. Too much expectation. In order to preserve the limited PPE, the limited healthcare workers, the limited ICU beds, leaders in healthcare and government have asked people to limit the spread of  COVID 19 by isolating, sheltering in place, and following guidelines to stay healthy like social distancing, washing hands, wearing masks when in public, and avoiding excessive exposures (like going to get a haircut or shopping).

I have seen the protestors. At first I wanted to shout at them, call them stupid, stand in their faces and wish the wrath of the disease on their lives. Yeah, I got pretty pissed off. I know what the consequences of their actions are and I just wish they understood.

Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34).

After the anger, I thought about the essential worker. Her faced brightened, her demeanor changed, when I asked her how quarantine was going. She wasn’t in quarantine, she was working. She was needed.

The people with their rebel flags, Trump hats, wrapped in the American flag, taking to the streets after sitting at home watching the bills pile up with no end in sight, nobody ever called them essential. They are the sea of nonessential, unneeded that are watching the rest of us get all the accolades. Their white skin, with all the privilege that it brings, wasn’t working for them right now. They are the unseen. The ones with too big a mortgage bill, too big a car payment, secretly living from paycheck to paycheck, trying to look like they’ve achieved the American dream, but falling short by just one paycheck.

Once I tried to understand the motivation behind the protests for reopening a country that has virtually no COVID 19 testing, no cure, no vaccine, no reliable count of the dead or infected; that’s when my anger subsided. These protestors just want to be needed. They just want to be counted. They just want to be heard. They just want to work (and get a haircut or a greasy burger in a booth with a rip in the seat at the local diner). They are not evil, they are desperate. They are so desperate that their motivations and desires will put them and others in harms way and it’s a chance they are willing to take. Many were not wearing masks or practicing social distancing. The virus will spread. There will be death. There will be sadness and worsening desperation.  The essential worker will be harmed like a sick kind of payback for being needed in the first place. They will burden a system that is already showing cracks from the strain.

They know not what they do, but I pray that a sliver of reality will get through. We are all essential. It is essential that we all do what we can to protect the other. It is essential that we understand that our behaviors do not just effect us, but create a ripple. The ripple can be like a breeze of cool air,  refreshing and healing or it can carry the invisible virus of death and despair.  People will be harmed. People will die and we know it to be true.  Some might say it’s the price we pay for freedom. I say no haircut or burger is worth that kind of payment. That’s too big of a price to pay to be needed.

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My Pleasure

imagesAm I the only one that is disturbed when the shiny-overly-smiling-faced purveyor of my chicken sandwich at the Chick Fil A drive thru responds to a simple “thank you for my chicken sandwich,” with “my pleasure”?

I think it’s overkill and insincere. I have never in my life felt the need to respond in anyway to anything with “my pleasure.” It’s creepy. Does it really give you pleasure to put a chicken sandwich in a bag and hand it to me for minimum wage? When I think of things that could possibly give me pleasure several options come to mind, none of them involving chicken.

  • Getting a foot rub by Aqua-man
  • Meeting Stephen King and becoming best friends
  • Drinking red wine from the skull of my enemy
  • Finding the most amazing piece of junk at the Goodwill
  • Eating key lime pie while in Key West
  • Warm chocolate chip cookies fresh out of the oven
  • Riding horseback with my arms wrapped around the Witcher and my face buried in his long white locks

I once asked someone who I knew that had worked at Chick Fil A if corporate made them say “my pleasure, ” and she said they DID NOT.  What? Impossible!! How can all the people at all the Chick Fil A’s happen upon this odd way of saying “thank you,” all at the same time without a corporate-wide mandate??

Nope, she said, they don’t tell us to say, “my pleasure.”

Liar. Brainwashed. Or perhaps her brain was wiped clean after she no longer worked there. If it wasn’t for their chicken being so damn good I would stop going. I tried to find an alternative by checking out the local Popeye’s which happens to be over 20 miles away. The famous chicken sandwich that nearly broke the internet was pretty good, but not Chick Fil A good. The service was awful and no one said “you’re welcome” or “my pleasure” or really anything at all. Their eyes said all I needed to know. It was more like take your chicken sandwich and get the hell out of here! I kind of liked that attitude. It was sincere, honest.

Making chicken for minimum wage can not be a pleasure. Barely surviving can not produce shiny smiling faces that are just so happy to serve me dead fried foul. Where is the pleasure in that for the server or for the one being served? Who am I kidding? I don’t feel all that great about it either. Eating a living creature that was breaded and fried, slapped on bread and placed in a non biodegradable package just isn’t a pleasurable experience at all. Maybe next time I get a hankering for a chicken sandwich from Chick Fil A -I’ll just have a wonderful, healthy, nourishing, pleasurable….salad.

 

 

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Stay the F^#@ Home

ciubaluUTFGvki9mErM9egI have been at home for the past 4 days with my family. I go back to work tomorrow. I am actually looking forward to the routine of a work day, although even the work day is not routine. I have little to no one on my schedule. I will be on the phone or computer “seeing” patients, mostly reassuring them, encouraging them to provide medical care for themselves at home. The last 4 days have been disorienting. It reminds me of being on maternity leave. Both of my children were born around flu season. I was petrified to take them out in public during those first few weeks after birth. I basically sequestered myself and the babies at home. It didn’t take long to become unaware of time of day or day of the week.

I tried my best to keep a routine. I got up every morning, showered and dressed before my husband went to work. I never once stayed in my PJ’s. I think that’s key to not losing one’s mind. Try to keep some semblance of routine during your quarantine.

It is important to take small moments to just breathe. I steal these moments often throughout the day. If I don’t, I feel the tension rising inside my chest, a feeling of panic that comes from nowhere and everywhere at the same time. I stop and breathe. I take a moment to be grateful for the breath, for life, for the ability to help even if it means staying in my house and limiting the spread of COVID 19. There are all kinds of heroes during this pandemic, both those that are leaving the house to provide essential services and those that sit their asses at home.

We needed chicken food yesterday. The local feed store was business as usual. Me and the kids stayed in the car and my husband went inside for the food. I observed the comings and goings of the patrons buying cow manure, garden plants, and mulch. It didn’t anger me. I just kind of shook my head. Humans are funny creatures. None of those purchases were necessities during a pandemic. They were just going about their yearly spring routine. The sun was shining, the birds were chirping, and it was time to get the garden started, I mean think of those fresh from the garden tomato and mayo sandwiches come summer time!! Perhaps chicken food is not a necessity either, but I think our chickens may disagree. Bless those 2 little chickens in our backyard. Right around the time this virus really started to uptick, they started laying eggs again after a long and tedious winter. I suppose they, too, are doing their part.

It is hard to break old habits. It is near impossible to get everyone to understand the importance of staying home. Yesterday was such a beautiful spring day in the Carolina’s that it almost seemed like nothing was wrong, nothing had changed. I wish we could stay in this place, but it’s too late now. It is past time to do our part. We have to stay home, we have to avoid the spread of COVID 19. The sooner we get it together, the faster this will be over and we can get back to our gardens, our restaurants, our jobs, schools, life as we know it. I don’t want to do this a day longer than I have to so my advice is….

Stay the fuck home.

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Crown of Thorns

UnknownThe coronavirus is named because under an electron microscope, the group of viruses appear to wear a crown. I can’t help but compare that to the crown of thorns that adorned the head of Jesus Christ while he hung on a cross. I don’t know exactly where I’m going with this illustration, I just keep thinking about it.

Today I am home. I’ve worked the past 3 days. I haven’t seen an influx of patients, but mostly I’m triaging on the phone. I rescheduled everyone that did not need to be there, gave lab results on the phone, discussed any concerns patients were having, refilled their meds, answered questions, gave advise. It felt good to be of some use. I still lack the ability to test anyone other than the most ill, healthcare workers, or those that have travelled, have had contact with a person with COVID 19 or symptoms associated with the illness. It’s frustrating because I can’t be sure that some mild cases have come and gone and I’m none the wiser.

It dawned on me this morning that I’m likely not going to be able to see my dad in person for a while. I’m too much of a risk to be near him. He’s elderly with chronic medical conditions and he’s all alone. My kids and my husband are equally dangerous to him. My husband works in healthcare, too, and kids are just walking Petri dishes. I have asked my facebook friends to help by sending him messages. Hopefully, the collective attention will keep his spirits up and he won’t feel so scared and isolated. We were supposed to be driving to the VA this morning to have his cataracts removed, but like everything else, it was cancelled until further notice. I decided to take the day off anyway and tomorrow, too. My plan is to rest up, relax, spend time with my family, stay hydrated, take my vitamins, and see what next week brings.

I have my worries, but I am also hopeful. Reports from China show no new cases for the first time since the outbreak started in December. This gives me hope. This too shall pass. 3 months. We can do anything for 3 months, right? Stay home, homeschool, delay our social gatherings, shopping, conserve our resources and maybe learn a few lessons about loving our neighbor. So many breakthroughs can happen in that time, new drugs, old drugs used in new ways, maybe (just maybe) a vaccine.

3 months is not a long time, but also an eternity. So many tears and hardship until an end is in sight. Loving our neighbor is imperative. Thinking of the other and not just the self. This is the lesson. Each of our personal survival depends on it.

 

 

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I Might Shit My Pants Before its all Over

IMG_6335There’s nothing like a global pandemic to bring Deconstructing Doctor out of semi-retirement. As I write this, the kids are obliviously occupied on their iPads, pretty sure my husband is, too. That Rumba that he bought for Christmas that I did not want is happily purring through the house. In retrospect, I love the Rumba, although this one is actually an off brand. Something generic, something copied. It is truly a worthwhile gadget. Maybe it deserves its own blog post sometime.

I’m getting my spirit ready for what Monday morning will bring in my somewhat small town family practice in North Carolina. If Friday’s dry run is any indication, I better double up on the deodorant and caffeine. It didn’t go so smoothly. No one really knows how a pandemic will go. We are truly flying by the seat of our pants.

Covid-19 only reared its ugly head in December 2019. Three months in and we are stocking up on toilet paper and Lysol, secluded in our houses, every aspect of our American life as we know it disrupted. It gives me the feeling I would have before a hurricane growing up in South Florida. We are prepared. We have battened down the hatches and we wait. It’s eerie.

I worry though that we aren’t really prepared at all. As I go into Monday morning, protocols for testing are still not completely clear. It keeps changing. I have to set aside my Type A-ness and just roll with the punches. I can’t get agitated, question authorities, or lose my cool. I just got to adjust. It’s tough. Patients are going to be calling, coming in, they will want to know if they are infected and to be honest, I’m not sure that we can test everyone with valid symptoms. I’m not sure if there are enough tests to go around.

I worry that we will get sick, too. Healthcare providers are vulnerable. I want to stay well so that I can keep in the fight, I don’t want to tap out too soon. I have been trained for such a time as this, like a soldier posed for battle. I wonder if those brave soldiers in battle have the urge to shit their pants like I do right now.

My nerves go from completely calm and cool, to that “shit the pants” feeling about 4 times a day. I keep checking the news, the CDC/WHO websites, my own company’s and colleague’s emails. I’ve listened to my church’s sermon live-streamed on facebook. I’m even continuing with a Bible study that was started almost 2 months ago. I’m washing clothes and tidying up. I’ve taken 2 baths today and cut my hair. Yeah, that’s weird, but I do cut my hair myself from time to time, especially since I’m not sure when I’ll be able to get a proper haircut at the salon. I’m trying to stay informed and yes, maybe even a little distracted.

Do you recall a surreal moment before your whole life changed? That one moment of clarity and peace until the shit in your pants hit the proverbial fan? This is the moment. I am pecking away calmly on the keys, not wholly sure of what tomorrow will bring, but knowing that it will likely make all the days that follow feel like it will never be the same.

Stay well, blog friends.

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From the Skulls of My Enemies

I have recently taken to the habit of drinking a glass of red wine from a clear glass shaped like a skull.  Not everyday, mind you.  It started after Halloween.  I decided to make a Halloween feast for my family.  Hot dogs carved like fingers, cake that looks like cat litter, with little tootsie roll cat poo half buried below the surface, green colored punch, smoking and smoldering, poured into clear glasses shaped like skulls.  My dad thought the Halloween feast was a lot of fun, the kids still talk about the cat litter cake, and I really liked those clear skull glasses.  I’m the only one.  So I put the other 5 glasses away until next year and kept one out, one that I can drink red wine from when I felt inclined.

Before drinking my wine, I usually announce that I am “drinking wine from the skulls of my enemies.”  My children give me their typical side eye, “mom is crazy” looks, usually followed by, “mom, you’re crazy,” and go about their business.  My husband knows this is par for the course.  Typical of his wife, a little off center, a little eccentric.

I am not a big drinker.  I drink one glass, but it’s enough.  I am thoroughly pleased with myself as I empty the clear glass skull of my enemies.  Who are these enemies?  That’s a hard question to answer.  In my 43 years, I can barely name an enemy, but the longer I live, I suppose, the chances of lengthening that list increase.  It seems there are people that I have touched in this world with my presence who do not like me.  I will call them my enemies.  I will also call those that have manipulated me or hurt me or tried to destroy me my enemies.  Those that have deceived me or worst of all betrayed me, I think it’s a fair assumption to call these people my enemies.

I would guess that having enemies then requires one to feel immense anger towards them, anger driving rage followed by thoughts of revenge.  Enemies and hate go hand in hand, but I don’t feel hate. This new habit of mine does not feel tinged with ill will, I am not angry with these enemies.  I do not wish them death or destruction.  I think it is a way to come to terms with them.  It is my way of finding forgiveness, of sharing a toast, having a simple drink in their honor and in their skulls.  It’s my way of telling the universe, these people do not have power over me.

Do I drink other things from my skull glass?  Well, milk just seemed wrong.  I once had a little bit of Coke in it, but somehow, it wasn’t as satisfying.  I think the liquid should be red.  Red is anger, red is powerful, red is life giving.  Now that I have enjoyed this clear skull glass so much, I ordered a skull coffee mug from Amazon.  A hot cup of tea from the skulls of my enemies, now that sounds like good therapy.

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The War of Christmas

Creepy-Christmas-2It was a typical Monday morning, I got the kids up and ready for school, dropped them off before the bell, and headed off to work.  Halloween was still fresh in our minds, the candy piled high on the kitchen table, costumes laying clumped in piles in the kids’ rooms, skeleton decorations still hanging on the front porch.

As I drove into the small town that I work in, a glaring reminder that the holidays are upon us struck me like a slap across the cheek.  A giant red glittery, metallic, shimmering “Merry Christmas” was strung across the entire street.  Overhead, it glittered and shimmered overwhelmingly in the morning sun, almost blindingly.  It was huge.  Is it wrong that it felt like an assault?  Not an assault like a gunman barging into a bar and spraying bullets into the crowd kind of assault.  More like an assault of the senses, an assault on anyone who doesn’t celebrate Christmas.

I celebrate Christmas, I am a Christian, but even I don’t understand this war-like stance that Christians take about this holiday.  This garish sign across the street heading into town might have well read, “Merry fucking Christmas” or “Merry Christmas, motherfuckers” or “If you don’t celebrate Christmas, then get the fuck out.”  Yet, in this same small town, one might hear people sitting in the diner complaining about immigrants coming into our country, or how our taxes support all these lazy people on welfare, or how they support a man that tells it like it is, even when he says he grabs women by the pussy or degrades fellow Americans with disabilities.  You can’t have your “Merry Christmas” sign and spew hate or support those that do.

The first Christmas was spent on the floor of a barn amongst the sights and smells of the beasts of burden.  Immigrants traveling and not being welcome, a man and a woman in need of shelter, a human baby born without the comforts our humanity can provide.  His birth, ultimately leading to his death for all of us, despite our depravity, ignorance, greed, jealousy, hatred, sin.  The first Christmas was void of red, glittery, metallic signs.  It was dark, cold, and dangerous.

Today’s Christmas is an assault.  The quiet, solemn moment of the Christ child’s birth and the subsequent story of Jesus as savior is overwhelmed and outshined by the jolly round Santa, flashing lights, piles of presents that no one really needs, the bustling crowds selfishly hoarding their baubles amid immigrants seeking asylum, children living in poverty, and veterans living on the streets.

If someone doesn’t tell me “Merry Christmas” it does not anger me.  I am not proud of what Christmas has morphed into.  People wear bracelets that read “WWJD (What would Jesus do)” and I wonder what would Jesus think of what the celebration of his birth has become.

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