As of this week, I have gone two and a half months without a single human touch, by me or to me. How strange is that? I don’t think I ever before went more than eight hours of daytime without some human touch–a hug, a kiss, a handshake or touching a child’s shoulder in class, demonstrating a physical exam technique, examining a patient. Never.

Touch is grounding for me. Its absence must be part of what plays into my current lack of focus and sense of clear purpose each day. The resulting space in my life, usually full of directed activity and fruitful creativity, is now too often either empty or filled with a kaleidoscope of thoughts and feelings that weave a pattern of distressing memories; the realities of this virus and the magnitude of its costs and losses intertwine with my own loss.

I’m retired. Though I offered to help during the pandemic by doing telehealth, my institution did not need me. Sidelined, I watch and follow my colleagues as they work to care for everyone who needs care. I go for walks with my dog and see so many people still gathering together, in groups, without social distancing, without wearing masks; I fight my judgmental feelings. I support small businesses whenever I can, as they try to stay afloat. I worry about my son and his safety.

And then, inevitably, I return to the fact that this virus and its pulmonary effects are just too similar to those of the virus that took my other son’s life three years ago. I have vivid pictures in my head of his struggle to breathe for four days before they intubated and ventilated him.

In my head, I see all the COVID patients struggling now; they look like my son, but they are alone, without a family member to hold a hand or stroke a brow with a cool towel. Touch was so important during those 16 days of ours. Just touch. Which so many of us don’t have now.

Sharon Dobie
Seattle, Washington


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