Dr. Robin’s Covid-19 Updates

How to Outlast the Pandemic with Grace

Working That Resiliency Muscle

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

The US has hit a quarter of a million deaths, a mind-numbingly terrible milestone. We try to picture how it’s more than all the deaths in World War I and Vietnam and Korea combined, but it’s just not fathomable. And the worst of it is, hospitalizations are rising so rapidly now — with no clear-cut way to turn them around — there is no clear picture of when this terrible tsunami will recede.

Regarding Thanksgiving: I’ve been thrilled at how many people have deliberately decided to dial the day down to immediate bubbled family.

It appears more and more people are using our science to make mindful decisions about Thanksgiving. Almost everyone I know has changed their plans somehow — inviting fewer people, eliminating travel, eating take-out or pot-luck, shortening the get-together, using more ventilation or outside gatherings, planning widely spaced tables and chairs, and masking around everybody at risk hopefully keep us all a little bit safer

Some people have found this Brown Med School calculator helpful. You put in the details of your gathering — eg numbers of guests, duration, indoors/outdoors, what % masked — and it will tell you whether it’s a high, low or medium risk activity.

What I especially like is how you can change the parameters and see how those changes affect your risk.

a) Cut the event time in half? Cut the risk in half.

b) Cut the guest list by 50%? Cut the risk by a lot.

c) Eat outdoors? Radically decrease risk.

I also think the calculator helps you pinpoint how much risk you are willing to accept. It’s remarkable to see how every little change helps.

Unfortunately, unless every single family in the country dials back/stays home, I am afraid we are going to be facing some rough times.

Starting out with the high numbers we have now and adding in Thanksgiving means we’re probably going to have an awful Christmas, and then if we have a bad Christmas, most of January is going to be extremely difficult — for us, for our families, but most of all for our health care workers. Vaccines will help (hugely! science will get us out of this mess!) but not in a big way til further along in 2021.

So again (and again): it’s going to be up to each of us to figure out what we can do to keep ourselves safe and sane.

In early March after I kept hearing what was happening in Italy and NYC, I wrote my first Covid post. I said we were about to face “a major life-altering epidemic and all of our lives are going to be changed for a while…”

Ha! I couldn’t in my wildest dreams imagine what “our lives are going to be changed” meant, or for how long, or how painful it would be to now read that hopelessly naive phrase “for a while.” I never ever imagined all this.

But I can imagine the next few months. It is going to be more of the same, but more so. We are going to have to continue to be meticulously careful, every day more so. We are going to have to stay physically isolated from our loved ones. We are going to have to continue to limit travel, crowds, rituals.

And for many of us, we are going to live these unwieldy, uncertain, disrupted lives while in the depths of our winters.

How are we going to cope? For some of us, just continuing as before. But for many of us, we are going to have to really work at it. We are going to have locate every coping skill we’ve ever honed, every moment of potential grace and kindness, every ounce of resilience.

Some days I think a lot about the similarities between people dealing with cancer and people facing their Covid fears. I think there are remarkable parallels. Some people are magnificent beacons of resiliency and grace. And some people are tortured from beginning to end.

In preparation for my winter, I have been reading about coping and resiliency. I’m very taken by Dr Lucy Hone, a psychologist in Austrailia. She says there’s three characteristics of resilient copers.

The first is they acknowledge that any lived life will include some suffering and that loss and change is an expected part of normal life.

Most of us have gotten used to the fairy-tale worlds of Cinderella and Instagram where people live happily ever after with never a drop of stress or strife.

But in real life, it’s one crisis or loss or adjustment after another. Just like in the cancer clinic. Just like now.

A second characteristic is this: resilient people going through a bad time are very good at carefully selecting what holds their attention; they concentrate on avoiding negative triggers.

Among all the traumas of the last ten months, I think the relentless drumbeat of the all-Covid-all-the-time 24 hour news cycle is one of the worst. And most of us could probably benefit by dialing it back.

A “news fast” — a deliberate decision to whittle down on news and social media exposure — may be a great way for many of us to calm down our monkey minds and leave room for maybe just maybe some grace instead.

The third characteristic among the high resilience types is they consciously ask themselves “Is what I’m doing helping or harming me?”

Does spending afternoons with Uncle Maskless keep you awake at night? Personally, my coping skills are directly proportional to the number of hours I spend asleep, so for me Uncle Maskless Induced Insomnia is to be avoided at all costs.

Is listening to your neighbor’s conspiracy theories likely to lead to a murder conviction against you? Fundamentally criminal charges of any sort fall into my definition of “harm.”

Is joining with Aunt Petunia in that “just one more” one extra glass of Chardonnay going to influence how you cope with the kids when you get home? Help? Harm? Only you can know for sure.

Some consequences are easier to recognize than others.

In reading about the resiliency we are going to need so badly this winter, one thing has become clear to me.

Just as we are making mindful decisions about Thanksgiving, we now need to make mindful decisions about how we are going to cope with the surge of suffering that is upon us. Basically:

We need to wait this out. We need to see this bracket of dark days as diary pages in the timeline of history. We need to get a heavy square calendar and draw a big fat X on each day we get through, tender and tattered but hard-fought and done.

We need to see each day we’re held harmless to be a good day; each good day to be a gift; each passing month to be a godsend. We need to rise up and hang on and be kind and stay strong until we all — family, friends and Uncle Maskless god willing and Aunt Petunia too — can come back out once again into the light.

{Robin Schoenthaler, MD is a Boston-based cancer doctor who has been writing weekly straightforward fact-based no-blame-no-rumors-all-science-all-the-time essays about Covid-19 since March 2020.}

Covid-Translator. Cancer doc: ~Three decades at MGH. Writer and storyteller: Moth Grand Slam Champion. Mom. www.DrRobin.org, @robinshome, robinshome2@gmail.com

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store