• Rosalind Kaplan, MD

How Are We Doing? Is It Getting Old Yet?

A few days ago, I wrote a coronavirus prose poem. As you might expect, it wasn't a very happy poem. Here it is:


Random Grayish Thoughts on Social Distancing

A warm day for March

I sit on the back patio catching

dove-gray-cool, sun-from-behind-the-clouds light

It’s just me til

my neighbor’s dog, escaped from his leash

bounds into my yard

black-and-white coat gleaming in pale sun

I lure him with treats, catch his collar, stroke his head

as much to comfort me as him

Laura calls over the fence

comes to retrieve her errant pet

We stand six feet apart

Six feet, the magic number at which

We’re not threats to one another

She moves forward

attaches leash to collar

retreats in an instant

I look especially infectious today

clad in charcoal gray scrubs

from a shift at work

should shower, change clothes

but I’m weary

Here, outside, it seems safer

and I’ve already rubbed alcohol

on my raw, red hands

Now that’s something I can’t buy, hand sanitizer

Made my own in a mixing bowl:

two parts isopropyl alcohol, one part aloe gel

Joke’s on me though--

The lady in the Rite Aid,

lank salt-and-pepper hair, nails bitten to the quick

laughed at me yesterday when I asked for more aloe

“It’s all gone, it’s been gone… Ha. Ha.”

You’d think

I was asking her for something crazy

like toilet paper

The shelves where they used to keep that

sit empty, leaving aisles as blank

as the stares I get from strangers

I dare to smile at from two yards away

Soon I will look like her, the Rite-Aid lady

an inch of gray root

above brunette-with-highlights

all so high-maintenance

Guess it’s a good time to go gray

match my scrubs, the sky, the collective mood

No explanations needed,

no apologies for looking like a skunk

or whatever other wild animal

is at fault

for this feral, fearsome time

Only a week or two ago

I prepared for a day

blow-dryer, undereye concealer

clothes carefully considered

Now it’s nothing but

gray scrubs and isolation gown

or gray sweats and isolation

On Amazon

I place an order:

One thermometer

thirty bottles of water, six bags of kettle corn

twenty-two books I’ve been meaning to read

Everything I need

to hunker down for a month or two

or maybe a year

or forever


A box of courage

a gallon of hope

as much resilience as I can afford

with my dwindling retirement account

They say we will soon run out

of masks and gowns and

the vials of pink culture medium

where virus grows from the

noses we’ve swabbed today.

I try not to think about the headlines

‘Doctors Get Sick at an Alarming Rate’

Why worry, or think at all?

Just wash your hands

wash until red skin burns

meeting disinfectant soap

like a match meets a cigarette

The world is not ending

or maybe it is

Perhaps I’m pretending but

I won’t build a bunker or buy guns

to protect a stockpile of Tylenol and Clorox wipes

I’ll share whatever I have with you

Being alone hurts the most

Give me your germs

I’ll give you my homemade hand sanitizer

what’s left of the toilet paper

the best book in my stash

my last kiss


It didn't get better in the few days after I wrote the poem:

I found out I'd had at least one COVID exposure with less than optimal PPE (poorly fitted mask, a mistake doffing my gown) but I'm still healthy and it happened more than 10 days ago--the tests from the commercial lab are taking a very long time to come back--and my own test is not done yet, but I can work because the new guidelines are to isolate for only a week...I suspect it will be negative. I also suspect we all had more exposures than we will ever know about given all the patients we saw with flu-like symptoms who were considered low-risk--no known COVID contacts and no travel. We didn't wear PPE with those patients until everyone started understanding community spread. Then we did, and now the recommendations keep changing all the time...reuse of masks is considered acceptable, because of shortages, and because removal might cause self-infection...every day brings new rules, new guidance, new problems.

On the positive side, we split our Urgent Care sites between patients with probable or possible COVID and all other patients. The two sites where I usually work are for the non-COVID patients, so I am safer, but I'm still on my guard all the time, because it's everywhere, and we know there are asymptomatic infections. A few healthcare workers in my organization are on isolation because of exposures. I worry about my colleagues who see COVID patients all day. I don't think anyone is sick yet, though in the Philadelphia area, there are a number of doctors and nurses sick with coronavirus infections. Not as worried, though, as I am about colleagues in New York City- as well as their patients.

In the midst of all this, we went live on Epic. For those of you who use Epic as your EMR, you know what a big deal that is. It's my third time around on a version of Epic, and the sixth change of EMR I've been through. So it's not a shock, but of course, it's a different version than I was on in the past, so I have to search for icons and figure out how to document various procedures. It makes work a little more frustrating than usual.

It's hard not to see friends, and I get antsy in the house. Since I work long shifts, I also have a good number of days off, and that isn't necessarily good when we're on a shelter-in-place order. My husband and I have gotten on each others' nerves a few times when we've both been home. My concentration has been overall poor, and it's hard to write or get anything else done.

I read news headlines way too much, and watch the news too much. I even watched a couple of Trump's news conferences. The messages are contradictory, crazy, often alarming, sometimes absurd.

I was horrified to hear that a man in Arizona died after taking chloroquine phosphate in an attempt to 'prevent' coronavirus. It was packaged for maintenance of a fish tank, but he and his wife ingested it. She's in the ICU.

But I laughed when I heard that a couple in Canada was getting facebook death threats after they were seen hoarding meat in the supermarket. And felt sick when I read that a man, angry at a Wegman's clerk, coughed on her and told her he had coronavirus, but felt better when I heard that he will likely go to jail for it.

Overall, it's no surprise that I ended up in a deep slump a couple days ago.

Yesterday, though, after a good night's sleep, I decided I needed to change my strategy. This is an awful situation, but it doesn't help anyone for me to skulk around and put out negative energy. So I cut back a lot on reading the news. Once a day is enough to be 'informed.' I turned on upbeat music (today it's a Spotify playlist called Happy Days, with fun songs from a better time). I went out for a very long walk, with a friend on the other end of the phone. I waved at people I saw from a distance. Last night I finally pulled it together to invite a few people to a virtual dance party, and to set up virtual game night with the kids.

This morning I pushed myself to shower, dress, and even put on makeup and jewelry, even though the only time I've been out was to walk the dog. Strangely, it really did make me feel better! I lit a candle that smells like evergreens in the study when I sat down to work. Then I dove into some writing and kept at it for a couple hours.

I also downloaded a bunch of Pilates videos- hoping i can get myself to use them. And then I moved a brightly colored rug from the guest room into the hallway so I have something 'new' to look at in the house. So far, so good today. No promises about tomorrow, but i'm going to try.

I think it's normal and probably healthy to be worried, scared, and confused in the middle of a pandemic. I feel those things off and on all day. I'm still seeing mostly gray skies. But now I'm looking hard for a streak of blue. Now and then, I see it.

#lifeworkbalance #selfcare #physiciandepression #physician #physicianwellness #narrativemedicine #physicianburnout #doctor #writing #medicine #health #isolation #coronavirus


© 2017 Rosalind Kaplan