coronavirus chronicles #9

I. On a Saturday morning, my housemate Elle and I baked a lemon meringue pie and Italian macarons and set them cool. In the evening, I left the baked goods in a sanitized Tupperware on the front steps of a friend’s home. She opened the door, a brief hello. I hoped she could see how wide my smile was beneath my mask, despite the distance between us that replaced the closeness with which we greeted another last winter.

II. Around this time last year was Second Look for Geisel: a weekend for admitted applicants to visit the campus, meet the students and faculty, and decide if Geisel was a good fit for them. I remembered that percolating intuition that brews in campus visits and conversations, that had convinced me to enroll, to find happiness here, to become what we say is a “complete physician.” This year, our Second Look was entirely virtual. So, on a Friday night, I logged into a Zoom room and played games online with admitted students, excited to meet them but unsure when I would see them.

III. On the wetland trail, old planks created a path, bridging over the soft mud and shallow earth. As seasons passed and pedestrians crossed the trails, the planks weakened, graying and wearing down to rot. I jumped across the splintering timber until an afternoon when someone kind had spent their day replacing some with bright yellow wood, kneeling down in the mud, and hammering four nails into each board. I wondered who had noticed the rotting wood on this quiet path. I wanted to thank them for this act of neighborly love, to know what drew them to tend to the trail.

IV. On Sunday, my college friends from a political organization, and I reunited on Zoom. Usually, we would plan reunions in some cities where most of us lived. But this online version made more sense given stay-home orders. And I loved the silver lining of how easy it was to connect with people to whom I haven’t spoken in ages, how wonderful it was to hear a bit of where my friends had gone and how their passions evolved. I left the reunion nostalgic but also wondering if we would continue our reunions on Zoom, post-pandemic—wondering if online social interactions like these may weave into our plans or be wholeheartedly left in the past.

V. My housemates and I hiked for two hours in a forest of rural Vermont, chatting aimlessly about our days online and news coverage. At the top of the hill, our conversations subsided into a pensive silence, until the coldness begged us home until some call to work reminded us that day was no longer young.

VI. We gathered small branches and thin twigs from the forest next to our house, using phones as flashlights. These pieces of firewood filled the bonfire pit, shaped into a cone that would burn red and blue. The smoke from the pine danced with the gentle wind, and small embers fell on the dirt. We named the constellations, the stores behind them. I thought of how many fables and folktales could be said in the fascination of fires.

VII. I think the social angst that comes with being home all day is appeased by the fact that my friends are also sequestered. I don’t have FOMO (fear of missing out). I don’t have any desire to break distancing measures for a fleeting moment of joy. I think any social angst I could experience, however, is also dampened by our med school class’ social calendar, location set to Zoom.

VIII. I imagined around this time I would know what summer would look like. Instead, I pendulum swing between dreaming noncommittal plans of road trips across the US and refusing to think past the day after tomorrow. I think the pandemic is reminding me to consistently accept uncertainty and veer away from overthinking about the future. I wonder though if the pandemic will teach us to be wary of any plans and to ask us not to hold tightly on them. I see that possibility already manifesting in some behaviors, where I am unconvinced that any of my remote summer “plans” will truly come to fruition. Dartmouth canceled its summer term in person today. And I would like the impossible at the moment. I would like to know when some road trips can be driven when some friends can be hugged. I would like to know that as much as I understand, I need to be patient. And that the uncertainties I have are much easier to carry than those of others: continuing medical treatment, employment, food security, and so on.

IX. What I love about writing is that it can capture a feeling, a thought that demands my full attention. The reflections I write ground me in some realization or advice I have found for that moment, resolving the narrative of the feeling or thought I had. Or so I thought. Here’s where an analogy is useful. Every year, I go to an ophthalmologist to discover that my eyesight may have changed. He has me look through different lenses and asks me which one makes things clearer. Lens by lens, my prescription is updated. I think that the question, feelings, thoughts we have are continuously re-experienced, and with them, our vision of the resolution we once saw so clearly blurs. So with even well-experienced feelings and thoughts, with time and a slightly changing context, I still have to re-negotiate my resolution. My reflections, and sometimes conversations with friends, serve as a mediator, as an ophthalmologist, in doing so.

X. I had the privilege of giving a talk on ethical tensions in the COVID-19 pandemic for a group of undergrads, graduate students, and faculty at Dartmouth. Watch below!

P.S. Here’s an important insight into how the pandemic is affecting organ donation and transplantation. Also I encourage you to have a conversation with your family about your decision to (or not to) donate!

Thank you so much for reading!

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