For Some Ills, There Is No Pill

Fatigue comes in many forms. Physical fatigue. Compassion fatigue. Emotional fatigue.

I should know about physical fatigue, the kind I experience when I realize that I can’t jog for more than three minutes without taking a break. Then I remember that I am overdue for my iron infusions. Way overdue. I blame my poor self-care on my recent move–in the midst of a pandemic–and how the circumstances were not exactly conducive to getting under the care of new physicians, despite being a physician myself.

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Moonshine

I wake when the sky begins to darken. As the sun buries itself beneath the horizon, the hospital beckons.

Nights bring a kind of calm. I find that wakefulness, while others sleep, grants me something sacred—time, untouched.

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Ennui

“There’s no hurry. Take your time,” the wife said patiently.

“Time, that’s all I have since I’ve retired,” the physician-husband said. “What do you have?”

“I’ve finally figured it out,” she replied. “What I’ve been feeling since the COVID-19 lockdown. It’s ennui.” She hadn’t used that word in many decades, probably since college French, nor even thought of it. “It just came to me,” she marveled.

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I’m. So. Tired.

Tired doesn’t even begin to describe it, actually. Exhaustion. Weariness. A deep, gut-wrenching physical ache that fogs my brain and fills my body with despair. I can feel the ache arise somewhere in the vicinity of my stomach, worm its way past my heart, and drive deep into my forehead. I close my eyes and imagine the bliss of sleep.

I’m so tired.

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Sleep Deprivation

Jeez, I’m tired! Hope I make it home without falling asleep! Okay, windows wide open, radio blasting. Here we go.

I had just finished working the 11 p.m.-to-7 a.m. shift at a hospital in Burbank, California. Now I was facing an hour’s drive home. Because I was afraid of falling asleep at the wheel, I always kept my right hand at the twelve o’clock position. That way, if I nodded off, my hand would relax, fall off the wheel, and awaken me. I was thankful the freeway congestion kept my speed slow.

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Breathless

In B.C.—the “Before Covid” world—I always woke up before my alarm, set for 6 a.m., rang; by the time I was ready to teach at 9 a.m., I had often done laundry, dashed to the grocery store for a few necessities, and dusted at least one room of my apartment. If I napped, which I rarely did, it was always a brief respite to get a second wind. When I finally retired for the night—usually at 9 p.m., with time set aside for reading—I slept well, confident that I had led a productive, rewarding day.

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Editor’s Invitation: Fatigue

Dear Pulse readers,
Our More Voices theme this month is Fatigue.
Many are feeling fatigued these days. Fatigued by grief, by isolation and by worry brought on by COVID-19, a murderous guest that arrived in January and is still among us.
Fatigued every time an unarmed Black man is killed by police. “I’m weary,” a friend wrote to me shortly after George Floyd’s murder, “Simply weary. In every sense, spiritually, physically, emotionally…”
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