A Love Letter to my Fellow Students, in the time of COVID-19

Yesterday I ran. I stepped outside into the blue sky and I fled, needing to feel my lungs burn. There were daffodils dancing and children cackling as they rode their bikes. No one told the weather here the world is crying. My neighborhood all dressed up in its Easter best has no idea what’s on the horizon. It makes it all the more difficult to understand and picture that we are currently experiencing a global pandemic.

I think this palpable dissonance surrounding me perfectly reflects the tension and confusion I am feeling in this moment. I have chosen a career in medicine because I want to care for others, fix their problems, heal their pain. In a few short months I will be stepping onto the front lines of this battle against our new viral invader as an Emergency Medicine resident.

As a physician, I expected to sacrifice a lot in my own life for my patients, but it hadn’t occurred to me that my actual life might be one of those things at risk in the infancy of my career. I am also worried about my patients, my colleagues and my family. And yet, at this moment, despite the current toll on humanity, I am consumed by my own grief. Because man, this feels personal.

I, and so many of my fellow med students, have been waiting for our Residency Match Day for at least four years and, for some of us, close to a decade. I pictured ripping open my envelope and cheering with all of my friends. I imagined putting on a gown for graduation and hugging my mentors. I hoped to embrace all of my classmates for the last time as we spread to the corners of this country resolving to do our best to make it a better place. I was looking forward to getting married and taking a honeymoon trip to Vietnam. Now, my honeymoon is cancelled, and my wedding is in jeopardy. Not only have we lost that, we are isolated in our own homes, unable to grieve together in person. I can’t believe this is happening. It is hard, and scary and heartbreaking. And I think it is okay to feel all of those things. Feel them out loud, scream, cry and laugh when you can. This interruption has come as a shock, and it is going to take some time to recover and that is okay. I think in the pace of the global age with internet and quick communication speed, we are encouraged to put our chins up and be positive. I think in the long term, after we have had time to grieve, and meditate and reflect I hope we can feel more centered and optimistic. But I also think it is dangerous to rush in too quickly into the suffocating arms of one dimensional positivity. Soon we are going to need to step up and be present for our patients and colleagues in the hospital, and we are not going to be able to do that as well if we have been suppressing our own emotions.

There are many tactics being used right now to try and implore our neighbors to act in the best interest of public health. I am just naïve enough to hope we can encourage people to do the right thing by being kind, understanding and patient. And I know there are other people who would vehemently disagree. Some support a “whatever it takes approach” of shaming, guilting, and scaring people into staying home. I have seen a lot of arguments for “your sacrifice of cancelled plans and staying at home is nothing compared to the current scope of global pain.” While there is much truth to this, I think it is going to be extremely psychologically damaging in the long term to deny people their grief and the truth of their experience. Quarantine and social distancing are so vital at this time, but they are HARD. We love to be around people, and staying away from our friends and family is painful. I think it is better to tell people their sacrifice is huge and important rather than belittling their experience. As an almost doctor, I want to set a good example and keep people safe, but I am constantly tempted to see my friends, go to the gym and be outside as much as possible at this time. Just because you know what is right certainly doesn’t make it easy.

So much of the current moment is confusing as we do things we have never done before without certainty how it will work and when it will end. As Brene Brown says, we are in an FFT (Effing First Time,) and it is going to be weird and challenging. Soak in the complexity of it and take as much time as you need. I know it is super corny, but love yourself and love each other and we will get through this. 

Love,  Carrie

About the Author: Carrie Bailes
I’m a lifelong South Carolina resident originally from Clover, SC. In my undergraduate years I spent my days going to the beach and frequently tripping over cobblestones while attending the College of Charleston. I graduated in 2015 with a degree in Biology and Neurosciences and spent a year playing with rats in a neuroscience addiction lab at MUSC before continuing my education. I’m thrilled to continue my tour of the state in Greenville and am enjoying all the great spots to read outside here. I believe UofSCSOMG has an untouchable sense of community and dedication to patient care, and I’m so grateful and excited to be a part of the class of 2020!