January 22nd, 2021
Gratitude – Reflections on 2020
2020 was a tough year. With natural disasters around the world, a global pandemic, and significant social and economic upheaval both in the U.S. and abroad, no one has emerged unaffected. Especially in medicine, we have acutely experienced our share of grief and loss and have witnessed humanity in its most broken state. In the darkness, however, we have still found glimmers of hope and light. Reflecting on the past year, I would like to share these moments of gratitude I have experienced.
Resilience in the COVID era
As the lockdowns and shelter-in-place orders were implemented, many industries experienced economic crisis, companies were forced to shut down, and many “non-essential workers” were laid off. I am fortunate to have had a job during this pandemic. Moreover, as a physician, I am grateful to have had the appropriate training and to have been in a position to take care of patients during this pandemic. Working at Bellevue, America’s oldest public hospital, and the Manhattan VA, I appreciate the opportunity to have taken care of patients with nowhere else to turn, and to have taken care of our veterans, who have served and protected our country.
During the early months of the pandemic, New Yorkers came together to support each other in several moving demonstrations of strength and unity. Several of my non-medical friends, hearing horror stories of healthcare workers experiencing PPE shortages, wanted to help in whichever way they could and offered me their own, saying, “I have two N95 masks, you need these more than I do.” There was a constant outpouring of donations of coffee and meals for healthcare workers every single day for months — from restaurants, companies, friends, family, and New Yorkers who just wanted to express their support and contribute to the effort any way they could.
Within the hospital itself, physicians of every specialty and hospital staff of every background (nurses, respiratory therapists, lab techs, custodial staff, greeters) banded together to help each other and to help patients get the care they needed. No task was beneath anyone, and everyone was focused on getting our patients — and each other — through each day. The sense of camaraderie was truly inspiring! People were re-deployed to tasks that were normally outside the scope of their pre-COVID roles, and they performed them with grace. Residents and PAs of every specialty staffed COVID units, OR PAs took care of inpatients, OR nurses started working as ICU nurses, and outpatient nurses administered COVID tests. I even saw general surgery attendings in their 50s and 60s thriving as re-deployed interns on medicine wards. (Believe it or not, they somehow figured out how to put in orders!)
In the ICUs, some of my patients were on OR ventilators that would break down every 12 hours, or single-mode ventilators that looked like 1950s video game consoles — a far cry from the fancy ventilators we normally use! But I was grateful we had something with which to ventilate our patients. And to wrap up the year, a miracle of modern medicine arrived — multiple COVID vaccines developed in less than 12 months.
In my own professional life, I found much to be grateful for as well. This past August, I matched at an incredible endocrine surgery fellowship, at UCLA, where I will be headed this summer! I am grateful for my patients, who have taught me so much — learning from their pathologies as well as the resilience so many of them displayed in the face of receiving difficult news. I am indebted to my mentors, surgeons who have been eternally patient in training me and who inspire me daily to be the best surgeon I can be. I am grateful for my junior residents and medical students, who are intelligent, hard-working, make my life easier, and ask insightful questions that push me to advance my own understanding of medicine. Over the past year, I am grateful for all of these experiences that have helped me mature significantly as a physician and surgeon.
I am fortunate to have family and friends who love and support me — and help bring out the best in me. Over the past year, I have met so many people, both in and out of work, who have helped me expand my perspectives on life. And finally, I have rediscovered my love for running! I ran cross-country and track in high school and used to love trail-running in my hometown. Going for a run in Central Park, or along the East River, revitalizes my mind and body, and I love exploring the city. In addition to improving my fitness and releasing endorphins, running helps me reconnect with nature and with my body. It allows me to practice mindfulness, self-reflection, and self-affirmation, and I really appreciate this meditative aspect.
With such a tough year now in our rearview mirror, this retrospective is not meant to repaint our collective experience in a rose-colored hue, nor meant to minimize anyone’s grief. Instead, I offer this recollection of moments as a means to share my gratitude to all those around me who helped me make it through the difficult year that was 2020.
What were you grateful for in 2020?