In another universe, we could be waking up together, sipping our early morning coffee, cuddling and not minding what we’d have for lunch. In a parallel universe, we could be travelling the world together and not minding if we took business class, ordering only the best Angus Beef Steak in medium rare to our heart’s content, enjoying different Arabian sunsets and not minding how much money we’d spend on that bottle of Martini. We could have enjoyed our much-awaited honeymoon in the cold coffee capital, Melbourne. You would have presented your article at the World Congress of the International Hepato-Pancreatico-Biliary Association this year.
But we live in an imperfect world. And we have to get used to not waking up together, to spending most of our days in the hospital, to rushing our way to the ER, to gambling with life and death with each “tick” and “tock”.
Nearly a year ago, I never would have imagined that the day would come when we are forced to face the greatest challenge in our medical career. One year ago, I was only a general practitioner in a government hospital in our province. I was confident we would enter residency training after our wedding. Needless to say, our greatest test yielded our strongest faith.
This pandemic has taught me two of the greatest lessons I would ever learn: HUMILITY AND RESILIENCE. This pandemic is the realization of the infamous quote that medicine is not just a profession, but is a calling. I have experienced being the lowest of prey in the hospital when I became an intern, when our assigned areas were always the Trauma Area and Emergency Room; when we were always the first ones to respond to an emergency; when our seniors and consultants are only visible when being referred with a morbid case. Today, it is humbling to see that even our consultants are armed at the ER, getting into the very front of the frontline, and never minding if they are the lowest prey or if they will be the next victim– all to save even just one life in a day. To do it everyday for the last 5 months has both been a gift and torture. A gift– for being alive and still breathing for one day more– and an ordeal, having to face the greatest risk of eventually ending in the deathbed in one of those days.
On April 25 this year, I could have been walking down that aisle in a white serpentina, a bouquet of calla lilies in my hands and a promise in my heart, preparing for the brand new chapter of our lives, that was our marriage. But in a sick twist of fate, I was walking on the hospital aisle in a white hazmat suit, a chart on one hand and the Hippocratic Oath in my heart.
And so this is our new chapter: a world where the hospital quarters become our only refuge; where the vending machine turns out to be our reliable companion in the wee hours of the morning; where the only feeling of relief we could possibly get is when we doff our hazmat suits after a day’s shift; where birthdays and anniversaries are intentionally forgotten; and our duty hours outnumber our exchange of text messages in a day.
To say that we are on the verge of breaking down would be an understatement. The long weekends have become unnoticeable to us. The missed birthday celebrations became the norm, and our video calls could not even translate our longing to see our four-year-old preschoolers whom we have not seen in days. We have put aside all our big plans, rearranged our schedules, and reset our lives to fit into each other’s comfort and convenience. All these we have done in the time of quarantine.
But I have learned to love our imperfect world altogether. I have learned to appreciate the simple things in life.
I spend my days eating healthier– something I’ve always neglected in the past.
I have tolerated short replies like “K” and “ILY” on a daily basis since it might be the only 3 seconds his hands are free for the day.
I have received the best gift from my husband when he bought me my first 6200 3M respirator mask as an anniversary gift– a gift only those at the frontline can truly understand.
And even if we don’t get to see each other for the past four months now, as sea borders still did not permit us to walk down that aisle, knowing that across the shores– somewhere on the other side of the ocean– someone is fighting the same battle as I am.
Until then, I’ll have to get used to this pit of isolation. And although we did not get our chance to exchange our “I do’s”, I hold on the consolation of your 6-word promise: See you at the finish line.