Commentary: Crisis in perspective

Living in the time of a pandemic has been a draining exercise for us all, but if we take a step back for a moment there are some truly useful observations to be garnered.

At the outset it’s worth pointing out that as Americans in the 21st century we are blessed with a wild extravagance of convenience and opportunity. Our sources of frustration usually bubble most furiously at things like poor Wi-Fi, having to wait more than 90 seconds for anything, or not being able to summon cubes of ice from the door of our miraculous refrigerators. Earlier this week the coffee shop was out of salted caramel sauce for my triple frappuccino and I was instantly reduced to a state of incredulous petulance. Just because it’s a FIRST world problem doesn’t mean it isn’t a problem.

These days I frequently hear about how stressful the COVID-19 restriction on movement is, and indeed it is, but there is also something in the back of my mind that has to ask if it is really as bad as we to make it out to be? I agree that the denial of human interaction has taken a toll of sorts. We are social creatures by nature and must mingle with others so that we don’t end up spending too much time in our own heads. However, when this is over I fully expect to regularly overhear conversations about how irritating people are and the desire to just be left alone. I’ll probably chuckle out loud.

The restriction of travel is maybe more maddening for a jet set crew such as we are.  Honestly, I can’t believe that my all-inclusive European 24-month immersion…I mean assignment… has really been interrupted by something as trivial as public health. Seriously, not being able to go trick-or-treating in Transylvania last Halloween is beyond reasonable, right?

Okay, so maybe you are picking up on the tongue-in-cheek nature of this op-ed. It’s not all to be biting sarcasm, however, so where are the real gold nuggets? The truth is that denial brings what we really value into focus. In the dental squadron we learned how important dental cleanings were to everyone.  We knew you needed access to care for toothaches and desperately would like orthodontics for your pearly whites, but we did not realize how strongly you valued the cleanings.  This is important information for our clinic and the follow-on for us dental folk is that we should strive forever more to always pair a cleaning with your exam. Thank you Corona, noted.

There’s an old saying that you can’t really enjoy the sweet without the sour. Perception is certainly a curious thing. There is so much in life that we can’t control, but how we frame our experience is always under our command.

During the pandemic we’ve lamented until blue in the face about how terrible things are or, alternatively, how things could be so much better.  That’s certainly a natural response but as a leader and unit climate setter I recognize it’s also important not to dwell in that smog for too long. I think it’s time now for a topical judo throw to change the tone and conversation. Moving forward I’m vowing to spend at least an equal amount of time focusing on the successes we’ve had along with the true resilience we’ve demonstrated during this bout.

The truth is that in the medical group and units across the wing we’ve persevered with incredible agility and durability. All of us have been under attack by an invisible foe and successfully adapted time and again to wholesale changes in the rules of engagement.  Our previous time in exercise and experience with CBRN has prepared us well. That’s the idea, folks: scramble everything and throw in significant duress, and let’s see how we do. I think we’ve managed very well — don’t you?

On a personal level, think about the relationships in your life that have been strengthened when you got the time back. For example, during last spring’s lock-down I discovered that my wife’s eyes are brown; very romantic, I know. Maybe you embarked on self-improvement, started a new hobby or played games that you hadn’t thought of since you were a kid. Or maybe it has just been an opportunity to take a knee and rest in a career that has otherwise been an all-out sprint.  Also, did you see that one series on that one streaming service — can you believe what happened in the final episode!!?

Of course, none of us really know what the future may bring, but it is beginning to feel like we may have made it through the pandemic’s worst — ‘alarm black, limited release’ if you will.  I’m proud of us all and you should be too. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed the spin I’ve tried to put this, but honestly I too am looking forward to the ‘all clear’ and a cold one with friends on the weekend after. I might even put an ice cube in it.