My First Blog Post

Here I am.

I’ve been wanting to do this for quite some time.

For those of you who have known me for many years, you may remember when I used to send out email journal entries.  I like to think I was blogging before blogging was a thing, but I didn’t have a platform except for email.

Now, thanks to a few eloquent colleagues and an IT savvy husband, I’ve moved onto the WordPress platform and will begin blogging in earnest (I hope!).

Being an Emergency Physician, mother of two, wife and human can get quite busy.  It’s hard to find time to sit down and write, let the creative juices flow, put words to paper (or screen as the case is these days).

I’ve come to the realization over the last few years as an attending staff, that I need a place to open up and decompress.  I’m tired of coming home and keeping it all bottled up inside.  It’s too much to bear, as so many physicians could attest.  What we do daily is hard stuff – never mind the joys and perils of motherhood on top of that.  Being a doctor can be a lonely profession, when it comes to discussing the emotions that run rampant every day.  I’m lucky in that over the last year or two I’ve become part of a supportive online community of people like me, and have found a space there to at times discuss my day.

But now, I am ready for the next step.  Ready to let the world in.  I have a lot to say, lots of stories to tell.  My patients’ worlds affect me, as much as I affect their lives when they present to my Emergency Department.  I carry them inside my heart, and there is much value in the things they teach me.  I would like to share it with you.

Come along, and I hope the ride will be interesting.

Mark: One Year

March 5, 2021

3:07 a.m.

One year later and this pandemic rages on. These days I’m more and more taught, my muscles reflecting my mind as they ache and pain.  Work gets more frightening each day as those I work with get sick.  Now I get phone calls for contact tracing (“did you work closely with so-and-so last week? Did you take your mask off at all during your shift?”) and more of my “cold zone” patients end up hot. The stress rises and sometimes peaks; I erupt volcanically with tears, raising my voice to my family at any little offense when really the problems lie outside our home.

When I come home to a full bed as I did tonight, two kids, a puppy and hubby all snuggled and at peace, it reminds me why we chose this path of true isolation. I remember why my kids aren’t in school, why I pulled out of the hot zones back in May, why we remain so strictly alone. This is my family, these are my loves, pieces of my soul. Their health, my health, are paramount to all of our mental health. Keeping them all safe is my responsibility; worrying that I could bring this raging beast home to them is the most scary thing of all.  So I work in the cold zone, sacrificing some of my favourite parts of emergency medicine, to keep them safe. I sit with the kids all day, distance learning grade 5 and kindergarten, so that they will be educated and stimulated even if not in the physical classroom. I drive hours twice a week to bring my girl horseback riding, and another day each week to go ski, because they need the distractions and the outdoors. 

I’ve come to understand that this time is not for me. It’s not about me. It’s about ensuring my children make it through to the other side of covid intact, happy, strong and sweet. They are the most important pieces of my puzzle, and their health is all that matters.

Friday evening stroll

Scenes from my neighborhood, walking my dog on a warm, wintry Friday evening before curfew during a pandemic:

A bus brushes by me

Police settle in to wait for their prey

A mother and child play I spy on the sidewalk

Twinkling lights on trees, homes, posts

Empty, dark parks void of play

Pedestrians give each other a wide berth as we pass

Children play hockey on their backyard rink lit by street lamps

Elderly couple says the sabbath blessing over wine on a back deck separated from the family inside by a sliding door

The Rabbi on our street smiles and says “Good Shabbos” walking by

Empty streets

My dog’s breath

Quiet steps in the night.

Covid daydreams

By now I’m sure most of us have had the Covid dreams, as I have. The ones where I am going about my usual activities and suddenly I realize I’m not wearing a mask. I freak out, like I used to do in dreams when I realized I was in class naked, or wearing only underwear at work. Now it’s mask and distancing anxiety manifesting at night in dreams.

But I also have Covid daydreams. I wonder how many of us do. Each time I enter the parking garage at work I can almost see the covid zombie jumping out at me from between two parked cars. I clean my hands, phone and ID tag as fast as possible, change my shoes and hop in the car quickly, always sensing some horror just outside my peripheral vision.

Then there is the one about one of my closest friends getting sick, and I can see myself kneeling by the bedside as they struggle to breathe, me in PPE and alone as no other visitors are allowed. It’s devastating and frightening, and I’ve been seeing this vision since about a month before the pandemic set in.

Dreams and daydreams used to be safe spaces to let imagination roam; this beastly virus has taken that soothing place from me and likely from many others. If only sleep would give peace, if only my waking meanderings of thought were pleasant.

Let’s hope once this thing ends that I return to flying over landscapes and adventuring through time when I close my eyes.

Vaccinated

Second wave

Deep into it

Kids are distance learning

I am working cold zone

On December 16 I received my Covid-19 vaccine! First dose of two, and I feel stronger already.

I feel weaponized.

Hardened.

A bit safer.

Less vulnerable.

Relieved.

But I also feel sad, frustrated and impatient, waiting for my family to gain the protection that was handed to me.

Until Elie is immunized we won’t feel safe sending the kids back to school; until my parents are vaccinated I won’t feel safe enough visiting them. I can still catch and transmit this awful virus, and God forbid my family’s safety is jeopardized because of me.

But I feel so much less afraid.

For the first time in 9 months I believe I will survive this pandemic.

For the first time, I live my days without a waking nightmare of myself on a ventilator.

I can see the end of this, and the days beyond Covid.

And it gives me so much hope.

Second wave

Another late night, another return from work, another exhausted walk naked from garage to shower.

9 months later and this pandemic isn’t close to being over; long enough for a baby to be born but not for a demon to be destroyed.

9 months of solitude and sorrow, spliced with joy and family.

9 months of being forced into a real, tight, exclusionary nuclear family.

9 months of being hugged and touched only by the three I love most, but distanced from the others I love equally strongly.

When will this end?

Human Touch

1:17 AM

The emerg locker room, in my dirty scrubs

“Can I touch you?” she asked, as we faced each other.

Would it really have been right of me to say no?

Standing there I felt naked, feeling my bare arms exposed to the room, anticipating the touch and dreading it at once, wishing for the protection of the yellow gown worn in the examination room.

We were standing in a room full of recliners stuffed with patients, by the nursing desk. Unclothed in my armour, wearing but my short sleeved scrubs, mask and safety glasses, feeling vulnerable – and in my discomfort I felt sharply her raw need.

I did not refuse.

She placed her hand on my arm like a feather, a slight grip, enough for her to feel my humanity. Alone, solitary, her husband recently deceased and her children living out of town, this elderly lady needed what only human touch could provide.

The tears in her eyes like glass, the hand on my arm like a weight underwater, I let her stay there for a moment. Frozen, warm, I waited until she released. We parted, to meet again later.

Can I touch you?

Can you touch me?

These gestures, so simple before, so rare and even frightening now. We are living in a time of complex emotion, in a time of physical division, when what we all really need and crave is unity. Touch. Each other.

She touched my arm, and I was touched. And reminded, of the little moments that I can give my patients, that have nothing yet everything to do with being a healer.

Letter to my children

Letter to my children

I’m sorry you missed the first day of grade 5 today, my girl, and I’m devastated that you will miss your first day of kindergarten tomorrow, my big boy. This isn’t how life was supposed to go. You weren’t supposed to experience hardship in childhood. You were meant to have a peaceful and stress-less development. I was supposed to be able to protect you, as your mother, from sadness and distress.

But I can’t.

I can, however, protect you from sickness. I can keep you safe from disease. Your dad and I have chosen to keep you home with us to shelter you from this sweeping pandemic that has rushed like a wrecking ball into our world. We will help you learn at a distance from your peers, but connected by the same screens we often hate. We will sit with you, encourage you, emotionally support you. I vow to do this, to the best of my ability as a mother and a person.

When this is all over you will still have missed this special transition to new grades, new phases of life. You will be behind socially. You will have to work even harder than normal to integrate into a group. You will feel left out. You will cry. I know this. But I also know that you are both sweet, smart, friendly and are learning resilience. You are fighters, survivors, like I am. You will break through the barriers that covid has erected, and you will become the people you were always going to be.

Let’s enter this journey together, my loves, and we will come out the other end stronger as a family and as people.

Love

Mommy

Moving forward

Life has changed.  Will it go back to normal? Hard to say.  If, when, where, how?

 

Motherhood has changed.  Become better, in some ways.  Become harder, in others.  Keeping my children safe means something much different today than it did a year ago.  I keep them closer, rules are stricter, the leash is tighter.  And not by choice.  I would love to give them the freedom they need and deserve; to let them run gleefully in the park with friends, hold hands with others, climb playground structures and hang from monkey bars without worrying about who touched the surface just prior.  I wish I didn’t have to keep calling “keep your distance”, as they bike on our street with the neighborhood kids.  I wish I didn’t have to worry about the babysitter exposing the kids to a possibly fatal illness just by virtue of her having a new boyfriend.

 

However, I am thankful for the extra time with my children.  Spending days with them, talking, hugging, playing, swimming in the lake, discovering new experiences together, it’s a blessing.  Even the thought of homeschooling them come fall is exciting to me – and to my daughter.  We talk about the curriculum and how we will learn cooking, gardening, how to fix things, nature, and so much more.  What we can teach our kids at home far exceeds what a rigid school curriculum can encompass; we can focus on what is important while still making sure they get their core subjects.

 

But.

 

When I go to work, and watch the emergency department gradually fill again to bursting, I remember the danger lurking in the corners of our existence.  The serpent’s venom waits behind every contact; stealthy, it bides it’s time, ready to pounce if the slightest error is made.  While things look better here in Quebec, I see our board turning brown again with rule out covid cases.  I see our resuscitation room full of brown squares representing patients with respiratory illness going to ICU, who may or may not have the infection.  I observe many more cases of young people presenting through our hot zone garage, having symptoms quite likely to be covid.  This thing, it’s not leaving.  It’s here, it’s waiting to flow over again in a second wave of illness.  And scary to us as physicians, this tsunami may arrive in concert with the torrent of influenza and other respiratory disease, come fall.  Then what will we do?  Our department is overflowing now with regular patients, non covid, non flu – what happens in September, when kids go back to school, people go back to work, and the double edged sword of respiratory disease strikes?

 

My heart is full of love for my beautiful children, and full of dread for the future.  The calm surrounding me when I see so many people going about their daily lives, gives hope but at the same time fear.  I am writing this sitting outside a Starbucks, in a parking lot, at a table that I wiped down with an antiviral wipe.  I haven’t done this since February, and the only reason I allowed myself to do it now is because I’m the only one here.  I won’t step foot inside, however, but I see dozens of people doing so.  In they go, wearing masks, a new reality.  How safe is it?  I don’t know.  Nobody does.

 

So, we will wait, and hope, and survive.  There will be so many stories for our grandkids one day.  How their parents and grandparents and great grandparents lived through a pandemic, made the most of what we were given, and moved forward with more love than we had before, and more gratitude for eachother.

It’s Not Over

Dear neighbours, community members, friends, family:

Covid has not gone away.

I just drove home from my shift as an emergency physician at my site which is a Covid center, to my home here in Montreal (which happens to be the Covid epicenter in Canada).

I was saddened and frightened to see many of you out, gathering in groups without masks or social distance between you. In fact, who I really saw were your children, teenagers, in throngs on the sidewalk. On Saturday on my way home I saw groups of sometimes 20, 30 people, men women and children, all close together without masks. Yesterday driving home I saw people in restaurants picking up take out, no distancing, no masks.

My husband and children went to throw a frisbee in an open field, and had to navigate on their bikes by an outdoor bouncy castle party on the street with a dozen small children playing, and in the park another group of ten women sitting side by side on a picnic table without masks.

Perhaps all of you believe that because the premier of Quebec said parks, pools, stores, daycares can open, that this means that there is no risk.

I PROMISE YOU THE RISK IS REAL.

You or your friends, or your children, will catch this virus. You may not get very sick, you may remain asymptomatic. But you will breathe on, talk to and spread droplets, hug or otherwise interact with someone who will end up in the ICU or even dead. That person could be your husband, your mother, your diabetic best friend, your neighbour with metastatic cancer.

That person could be your child.

Or that person could be you.

When that person comes to my hospital, we will care for them. The hardworking mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, children, grandparents who are nurses, orderlies, paramedics, housekeepers, respiratory therapists, security guards, doctors and clerks, will then be exposed and the cycle will continue. We go to work every day and risk our lives and the health of our family members, in order to make sure you and your loved ones are cared for when you fall ill. But don’t be fooled – we aren’t seeing less cases right now. We are seeing many. And we are at risk every single day.

When you choose to go out and interact with others without a mask or social distancing, you are not only affecting your own health. You are throwing yourself like a stone in a lake, with ripples that spread outwards in ever expanding circles. Your actions affect others, and can in fact affect the whole world.

Please, I implore you: stay safe. Keep yourself, your families and therefore me and my family, safe.

The fight is not over and the road will be long. Patience.

#stayhomestaysafe

#wearmaskssavelives

#socialdistance

Goodbye Daycare

You run to me, arms outstretched, as I drag my weary limbs to the garage door.  You have been anticipating my arrival, and burst through the backyard gate upon hearing my car door close.  Sunkissed and joyful, the two of you delicious little people want nothing more than to be scooped up in mommy’s arms and snuggled.  “Stop!” I call, “Stay back, wait till I have my shower!”; alarm rings in my voice as you hang precipitously before me, a few feet from possible contamination.  Your faces fall when you realize that, yet again, mommy can’t hug you right when you need it most.

 

This is the toll that the pandemic is taking on my family, and on so many families like mine.

 

Today, I am in mourning.  I grieve the loss of our daycare; ten years of joy, friendship, warmth and love stolen away in a flash by sickness.  Covid destroys so much more than we know – besides killing hundreds of thousands, besides overwhelming health care systems and hospitals worldwide, besides tanking economies globally – the worst part for me is the effect it is having on our children’s wellbeing.

 

On June 1, the government of Quebec is forcing daycares to reopen to the general public, after two months of being a safe refuge for children of essential workers like me.  Though they are putting in place safeguards like small class sizes, masks and visors for teachers, and increased sanitizing, as a health care professional I know that none of this is enough.  The likelihood of one of the children or parents transmitting Covid to the group is not negligible.

 

So today was my son’s last day at the daycare that raised my two children, nurtured them, loved them.  These were his final moments in his, and our, second home.  It was going to happen anyway at the end of August, but with a graduation ceremony and joy instead of sorrow and pain.  Luckily, being so young he will be very unlikely affected by the arrows that pierce my heart at this separation, and I know we will ensure he has a wonderful summer at home with us.  But the end of this phase of life, daycare, in this way, hurts.

 

My daughter, ten years old and blossoming, is suffering.  She, like all kids right now, misses her friends with an intensity of emotion that only the young can feel.  The hardest thing I’ve had to do so far during this crisis, is the one I did a few weeks ago when I had to collect her belongings from school.  On March 13 we had come to school only to be told the doors were shut, and home we went with the most important of her schoolbooks.  Two months of online learning later, and the decision was made that schools would not reopen until September.  I pulled up in front of her school, which had been my high school, and felt ill as I donned my mask and headed in the doors.  One parent at a time was allowed in, and I spent twenty minutes wandering the hallways of her innocence, opening her locker, touching her big girl belongings and stowing them carefully in a bag.  Going through her desk and her classroom to collect the rest, my heart felt ripped up as I, for her, said goodbye to grade 4.

 

Who would have thought, at this time last year, that our world would be so changed?  That coming home from work would be an ordeal of decontamination, that I wouldn’t be able to hug my children at a moment’s notice, that I would fear for my own and their safety every time I entered my Emergency Department?  How could we have known that grandparents would be isolated, families unable to touch eachother or have Sabbath dinners for fear of exposing each other to a fatal disease?  Thankfully my parents taught me very early in life to love and love hard, like tomorrow would never come.  I am so glad that we had dinners with my parents and my sister every week, for years, before covid.  We are blessed to have had so much time to be happy, to be together, so that we could save up those memories and get ourselves through these hard times.

 

For now, we will continue to be strong for our children, to love them, and have them love us, as fiercely as possible, as if the world is ending.  Because it is not, and one day we will remember how much we loved and how much we pushed so that we would stay safe, and keep eachother safe, so the world will go on.

 

So for now, run to me, my children, but stop a few feet away.   In half an hour when all the fomites have rinsed off my body and many tears have spilled in the shower, we will snuggle and reassure each other that we are still here, we are still alive.  One day this will all just be a time we lived through; we will tell your children about how “once upon a time, when your parents were just little kids like you, the world changed – and changed back.”.