The length of a shopping cart seems like enough distance. I wait outside in the crisp March air, as a line snakes around the Costco entrance. The store doesn’t open for another 20 minutes; this seems foreboding at best. A stream of texts ping through on my phone, and while most of them are forgotten grocery items, the occasional text comes through from work. I note that each text ends in a question mark.
We are all reaching out for answers, with none at the ready.
As I make my way through the entrance, the host hands me a baby wipe for my cart. I try to make a straight shot through to the produce section, but I’m sidelined by the crowd forming around the toilet paper. Ducking through to the prepared foods, I run into one of my closest friends.
We embrace quickly, perhaps awkwardly, for friends who spend holidays together. Our apprehension is palpable. “Isn’t this wild?” is interspersed with “How much chicken should we get?” and “Do we really need to buy all the paper products?” With eight children between us, it’s tough to judge how long any supplies will last under our roofs.
It becomes apparent, that in each area of my life, I’ll be reaching for answers, with none available.
My trip home is littered with phone calls. Units are closing to students. Our hospitals don’t have enough PPE. We still aren’t completely clear on how this virus is transmitted. We don’t know how to treat it, how to test for it, or just how novel this novelty will be.
I shove groceries into the refrigerator. My email inbox looks worse than my phone. Each subject line is full of question marks.
Will I get to graduate?
Can I finish my Capstone project?
Is there even going to be a job for me?
What if I think my patient had the virus?
What if I get sick? What if I get my family sick?
Can I just go home?
Do you know where I can go?
One question will not leave my mind: What can I do to keep my students safe?
The months to follow blur in my memory. Zoom lectures become question and answer sessions which, over time, simply become a space to offer therapeutic presence. The questions continue in droves. The answers are few and far between.
I crack a smile as I watch our graduates fill the screen. The victory is subtle, but significant, nonetheless. My daughters wave from our kitchen, hiding the stacks of pandemic school materials scattered across the countertops. Thinking of both my students and my children, I offer a silent hope: Let’s not have to do that again.
As the summer stretches forward, progress diminishes. Celebrations honoring the value of health care providers are distant memory. Praise is replaced with distrust, frustration, and occasional violence. The adrenaline is gone, and in its place settles a fatigue unlike any other. We march forward, with limited answers, and even more questions.
In the days leading up to the anniversary of that morning at Costco, my daughter prepares to set foot in her new school for the first time. New noise-cancelling headphones are purchased, along with a box of KN95s. She points out that those masks “look weird”. For a child with two scientifically minded parents, she seems unphased by our most recent discussion of neutralizing antibodies.
The same question continues to bounce in my head: What can I do to keep you safe?
I’ve labeled her hand sanitizer. She understands how to keep space from her friends. She knows that everyone is under exceptional levels of stress and may not react the way she expects. I give her space to overreact herself.
But somehow, it just doesn’t feel like enough. We’ve waded through this exceptionally challenging time, but we are still juggling more questions than answers. As I grasp for any confident conclusion, another preceptor is furloughed, another student needs to quarantine. My daughter packs up her laptop, and my email inbox looks eerily similar to this time last year.
Is this how far we’ve come?