Well, THAT was a year!

“I’m apprenticing myself to hope and learning as much as I can. I’m making space in my mind for the good thoughts, so they can nestle in and sing.” – Maggie Smith, Keep Moving

I suppose I’m doing a bit of bandwagon hopping, though as we’ve moved through the first half of March it’s pretty hard not to reflect on the last time that things felt “before-times” normal. The truth is that we are marking an anniversary right now that most of us didn’t think would need to be an anniversary, and the implications of that anniversary are heartbreaking, frustrating, confusing…and yet it seems irresponsible to ignore some of the good things that have come of Our Pandemic Year. If you entered March, 2020, struggling in your ability to hold “both/and” type mindsets, I suspect this year has expanded this skill set for you.

Let’s start with the assumption that you, like I, didn’t see the duration and severity of the pandemic coming- or at least not from the seat you were in on March 12th, 2020. I was spending this week watching professional meeting dominoes tumble as the Committee on Trauma, then the American Burn Association, then the ACS Leadership & Advocacy Conference were serially cancelled. Elective OR cases quickly became a thing of the past. Medical students were pulled from clinical services. I found myself online ordering masks so I could at least have an au courant fashion accessory (have you SEEN my triple layer fabric dinosaur mask?!?). It was as if life went from 1000 miles per hour to a snail’s pace.

That pace change is arguably what I will remember the most from this year.

Now, I say that recognizing that I had decided to take a sabbatical prior to the pandemic becoming what it ultimately became. I already knew that I would benefit from some unstructured time to be creative, to learn, to reconnect with family (and framily) that had I been failing to center. It had also become clear to me that I needed to make decisions about my professional commitments for the next 10-12 years; my efforts to keep one foot in the world of medical education and the other in the world of burns and critical care was resulting in no balance among any aspects of my life (personal or professional). The one thing that I knew for myself prior to “pandemic” inserting itself into all of our vocabularies was that what I was doing and how I was living wasn’t sustainable in any way. Well, that, and I wasn’t going to keep doing it.

Today isn’t the day for me to wax poetic about the sabbatical experience so I’ll simply say that it’s been everything that I hoped for and needed. I’ll also gloat for a moment and share that the last winter when I got in this many ski days was 2001-2002 (for those keeping score, that was my professional development year during residency). More on all things sabbatical in the future.

As part of processing this pace change, I’ve also spent time considering what I want to take forward with me to the “after-times” as we see glimmers of hope on the horizon. So, what do I hope is durable?

  • Weekly, or at least very very regular, virtual happy hour with a dear friend. I think in the last year we’ve missed 4 weekends, which almost makes up for the absence of in-person time (though we have also calculated that it’s “just” a 12 hour drive from Portland to Bozeman and we are both fully vaccinated now).
  • Gathering outdoors when the weather is suitable for it anyway. Why weren’t we/I doing more of this?!?
  • While I miss the soul nourishment of seeing colleagues from other places, I have loved sleeping in my own bed and learning virtually with professional meetings. Are we really going to go back to those wild academic travel schedules we endured? I’ll be surprised…
  • Framily/ COVID bubbles are amazing, and I’ll be keeping mine if/when I re-settle away from Montana. Granted, the core of mine has been my residency “sister”, her husband…and their 5 kids; we’ve simply reunited and built on what we started 20-something years ago. Having them close by has made the Montana portion of the COVID year not just manageable, but downright fun. I do NOT have enough gratitude for these humans, even if one of the 9-year-olds is eternally convinced that he’s taller than I am (he’s not…yet).
  • Old fashioned cards and letters. I’ve sent more cards and letters this year than I can count, and I hope they’ve done as much good for the recipients as they did for me to write and send them.
  • Honoring mental health. Although the pandemic has been hard on mental health in many ways and for many people, the fact that we have space to acknowledge this seems like such a quantum leap. Y’all, it’s okay to not be okay…and it’s okay to ask for help.
  • Sabbaticals. No, really, we need to normalize this. But, again, that’s for another day.

What will you remember most from this year?

And what do you hope doesn’t go away in the after-times?