Incoming intern
Internal Medicine
University of California,
San Francisco

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This is part of our series, Flattened By the Curve, which features the voices of doctors, nurses, healthcare workers, and others on the front lines against COVID-19. For information on how to submit, click here.

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I’m two days away from my medical school graduation. I’d like to say that medical school clarified things, laid them bare. I’ve met lucky patients and unlucky patients. I know that luck can be counted in birthplace, parents, money. Luck can be counted in organs. One healthy: brain, heart, liver. Two healthy: lungs, legs, kidneys. Health is a gift; may I never forget it.

But during medical school, I also thought: why am I waking up so early? Why is the hospital cafeteria food so, so bad? Why can’t this patient just be grateful for the care, why can’t my partner read my mind, why didn’t I go into tech?

And then came COVID-19:

I meet a patient with a traumatic brain injury whose family cannot visit because visitors are barred to reduce the spread of the virus. At home watching a movie with my partner, I think of him lying alone in a hospital bed and I could cry just looking at his slight smile, at his hands, at his “watching TV” shorts.

A few days later, I’m mad because COVID canceled my wedding. I was supposed to have a night for myself and listen to speeches of praise. I’m mad because COVID canceled my graduation. Somebody was supposed to recognize all this work.

Later still, looking for something to do, I take a walk and trail my fingers along a sidewalk bush and think how wonderful: the softness and the hardness, the wind on my face. Of all the places on the only planet with water at this particular moment in time.

And then I step inside, and nobody washed the dishes, and that’s annoying.

We all go in and out of perspective. Medicine brings the important things into sharper focus, but only sometimes. It is hard to see a ventilated patient and not be grateful for your own functional airway, your own healthy brain. It is also hard not to bemoan our own canceled plans, the shifts in our comfortable routines, the sudden uncertainty. Healthcare workers are heroes and are also ordinary people. (And everybody is a hero in their own way, please don’t forget). We feel lucky and then annoyed, grateful, and then resentful. And I think that’s okay, and that recognizing we are humans is the best thing anybody can do right now. I think we can forgive ourselves.

I wish for all of us more peace and more gratitude, more little moments inside all the big stuff: more warm cups of coffee, more clasped hands of loved ones, more sitting on our couches at night and then noticing oh: a full moon.

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Carolyn Rennels is an incoming first-year resident at the University of California, San Francisco. She lives with her calm-through-the-storm partner Jake, and hopes to adopt a cat soon.