A Doctor’s Diary: There’s no getting back to normal in post-coronavirus world

(The seventh installment of a special Efe series featuring the first-hand account of pediatric surgeon Colleen Fitzpatrick, who offered her support to an ICU for adults at a community hospital outside New York City, the global epicenter of the coronavirus)

New York, May 11 (EFE).- Today was a day off, which means I slept in and took at least one nap. After working all week in the busy COVID-19 ICU at Long Island’s Syosset Hospital in New York state, days off are a chance to get caught up on the mundane tasks of cleaning, doing the laundry and going to the grocery store.

The local grocery store has been limiting the number of people allowed in the store at any one given time. And most stores have six-foot (1.8-meter) distances marked out on the floor so people know how far apart to stand while waiting in line.

Weather permitting, I usually try to get in a good walk around the neighborhood.

Walking outside in the fresh air is a very welcome contrast to days spent in the unit, where you feel like the air threatens to kill you and the mask – which is your lifeline – is itchy and uncomfortable, though you don’t dare take it off.

It’s spring in New York. Spring is one of my favorite times of the year. All of the plants and trees have been blooming, the birds are singing and the sky is a spectacular shade of blue. It’s also been oddly quiet, as the constant din of airline traffic that usually fills the sky is conspicuously absent.

Here I find myself having a bit of a dilemma. I love this new peace and tranquility until I remember it is the result of a global pandemic that has taken far too many lives, cost people their jobs and livelihoods and disrupted our sense of normalcy. (New York remains the epicenter of the pandemic, now with more than 330,000 confirmed cases and some 26,000 dead.)

I find myself simultaneously wanting, and not wanting, to go back to the way things were before any of us had ever heard the name COVID-19.

Though when I hear people talk about getting back to normal, I think to myself that normal doesn’t, and can’t, exist anymore.

The world has been forever changed, and maybe in some ways it will be better. Perhaps this is a chance for us to focus more on the truly important things like spending time with family and friends and taking care of one another.

Witnessing how people have risen to the challenge in this time of crisis gives me hope for the future.

I think society is at a critical crossroads, but I am optimistic that we can and will do better – frankly, I’m not sure we really have a choice. EFE


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