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Continent

          Contact: from the Latin for touch.
          Isolate: from the Latin for island.

Because your breath had touched mine,
I was obliged to metamorphose
into a separate land mass,
to wear a collar of brine
like a heavy gurgling yoke

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Staying Over Our Skates

One winter weekend, I was walking in a local park that has an ice-skating rink. I stopped to watch the skaters for a few minutes. I’m not a skater myself, but I appreciated the skaters’ wide range of ages and abilities.

Off to one side of the rink, I saw a young boy struggling to skate. He was hanging onto one of the walker frames that were provided, his face a mixture of determination, frustration

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I Wish I’d Known

From the computer screen a few inches away, Oliver’s honey-brown eyes gazed into mine in the unadulterated way that only children’s eyes can, matching the directness of his question:

“Is he going to die?”

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A Doctor’s Visit

My new doctor enters the examining room where I have been waiting for him, seated on a rumpled paper sheet at the edge of a brown leather lounge chair. Behind the doctor’s blue mask, he is wearing a furrowed brow of worry.

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The Other Side of the Mask

I don’t know what it’s like on the other side of the mask.

Not the cloth mask, which I now wear every day, as habitually as my socks. I mean the plastic bipap mask, which provides the highest level of ventilation COVID patients can receive, short of intubation.

That mask.

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The Other Public-Health Emergency

It was March 2020, and COVID was coming. The virus hadn’t yet reached my small suburban community in Pennsylvania, but already businesses were waning, streets were emptying, clinics were closing. Fear was widespread.

A collective refrain sounded: “Shut it down”—the university, the restaurants and, most of all, the public schools.

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COVID Birdsong

Once I spent days, which became weeks, which become months, by myself in a small house in the village of Oshikango, Namibia. Two years prior, I had arrived there as a newly minted college graduate, eager to begin my new NGO job of teaching high-school science and HIV education.

It didn’t take long for the bubble of confident competence to burst.

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COVID Angels

I work as a registered dietitian nutritionist in a nursing home located in a New York City suburb, not far from the community that was the epicenter of the COVID pandemic in 2020.

For the past two months, I’ve also been a member of the COVID Angels, a group of volunteers who help senior citizens in Westchester County make their vaccination appointments.

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Hard Traveling

I heard him coming before I saw him.

Kerflop…kerflop…kerflop….

The sound grew louder as a pale, gaunt man in a red Toyota pickup truck pulled into our clinic’s lot. He parked in front of the window where I was seated.

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The Things We Carry

It has been said that we in health care carry a backpack of sorrows.

There is a sanctity to being on the inside, trusted to care for people in their weakest, darkest and most vulnerable moments. When it feels like control is gone, we steady our voices even when we too feel scared.

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Grieving in the Age of Zoom

Oncologists like myself are no strangers to death. It is all too familiar. We give our patients the best that medicine has to offer; we cure them if we can. When our efforts fail, we relieve their pain and ease their suffering. And when they pass away, we grieve. With their friends, colleagues, family members, partners and spouses, we grieve.

Almost by definition, a time of mourning is a time of gathering. Both to grieve

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