Pandemic apathy or…I think I’m getting too used to being by myself

Cancer plus pandemic has forcibly reduced my level of human contact over the last year. Whether it was due to government regulations or physical restraints from my illness, the effects were the same: less people were physically in my life at any one time. At first I fought it. I felt angry and restricted, especially when I was still healthy. Then when I got sick, I still felt resentful every time I had to be left behind when my family went somewhere or left out of a favorite activity. After awhile though, it started to feel easier to bow out of things, easier to just stay home and sit with my dogs, watch TV, and have no expectations. It started to become too comfortable. It is still too comfortable. Traditionally I am a social person who needs people, who savors life and interaction. Now, it seems like I have to force myself to leave the house and carry out any kind of responsibility. Now granted, I have the plethora of chemotherapy side effects like pain, neuropathy, and intense gastrointestinal distress that legitimately get in the way sometimes. That is true. However, I find myself wondering if I will still have reluctance to gather even after those excuses are out of the way. This is concerning. The words lazy, lackadaisical, and apathetic have never before graced my daily life vocabulary. I don’t really like them setting up residence now, but I am not sure what to do about it. I don’t really think that it is fear anymore that is keeping me inside. I think it’s something worse: apathy. I am just over it. I am just over all the panic and the restrictions, but at the same time I am out of the energy to discuss them, fight them, or act against them. What I need is a strategy for emergence that makes sense for me, my sanity, and my particular set of circumstances and limitations, not anyone else’s. Here’s hoping that I develop a good one and I hope you do too.

Dr. Katz

Has everyone lost their minds?

I just want to start off by saying WHOAH people! What is happening to everybody? Where did logic go? Where did common sense and understanding go? In just the past 24 hours I have seen people finger pointing, yelling at each other, shouting about conspiracy theories, threatening others, protesting, and panicking. That is a ton of unfriendly verbs right there. There is nothing good that is going to come from any of it. What’s simmering underneath all of it? : the pandemic and the politics swirling swirling around it. Let me take a minute and give you my honest perspective on it. Let me also be clear that what I am going to say is based on facts and personal observations. I am not here to sway you, convince you or otherwise change your direction. I just want to give you something to consider. If it happens to help you press pause on panic and anger, fantastic! If it doesn’t, it needs to be said anyway.

Ok here goes. I am here to tell you that Covid 19 is a real virus in the Corona virus family, which is the same family of viruses that cause the common cold. As you know, there is an infinite variety of viral mutations that can cause a cold and thus, we will probably never have a vaccine for it. Some of us will go down like a wildabeast for weeks with congestion, trouble breathing, coughing and even fevers. Some of us will get a little runny nose for a few days to a week and that’s the end of it. A small group of high risk people may even die from it. Now here comes Covid 19, a corona virus. It can mutate like other Corona viruses. It is ridiculously contagious like a cold. The vast majority of people that get it will have bad cold symptoms. Some people will be completely symptom free. A small subset will get seriously ill and may even die. This is crazy scary right? Of course it is. That’s a natural response. But, let’s put it in perspective. There is a certain subset of unfortunate people that are more at risk for everything due to comorbid conditions. These are the folks that need to always be careful, whether there is a pandemic going on or not. When you do the actual math on the covid thing, with verifiable numbers, the death rate is extremely small. I get it, even one death is too many. Of course it is. I am just saying that it is my opinion that our reaction and response to Covid perhaps should be in better proportion to the actual statistical risk it poses. We deal with many infectious and terrible things that can kill people every single year and they have not instigated a world mess of this proportion. I seem to recall complaining about the “latest shitty upper respiratory illness” as it blows through the world every year. In my lifetime alone we have had AIDS, H1N1, SARS, ebola, and the year round outbreaks of flu. I have news for you. AIDS and the flu have not miraculously disappeared, just because we are not talking about them. They are not the cool kids anymore, but I can remember being inundated with all kinds of bits of information each time one of these outbreaks started and feeling momentarily overwhelmed, but then we all went on. We didn’t shut down the economy and add financial despair to the shoulder weight of an already distressed country. We didn’t wipe out all other news and saturate all of our overwhelmed receptors relentlessly for months.

Let me be clear. I know this virus is real. I work in three different hospital systems. I have seen everything from the icu patients to the asymptomatic patients and everyone in between. Half of my family has had it….all have survived thank goodness but other people I know haven’t. One of my favorite people in the world died of Covid. But guess what, every time I have found myself scratching my head on why someone died, I realized after investigation that they actually had a comorbid condition that adversely affected their Covid path. It just makes sense. These cases we hear about in which someone died unexpectedly, I am willing to bet that the vast majority of the time there was an underlying condition as well. Just because we don’t hear about it or the person didn’t know, doesn’t make it not true. I think in the case of Covid, it’s all the things we don’t know or feel sure of that get to us the most. We hope a vaccine is coming, but it won’t be universally available for awhile yet. When it is, I am sure that some people will refuse it like they refuse everything else, even though we have all been clamoring for one for months. How does that make sense? It’s like we want to be able to control a decision about something, anything, just to say that we did whether it is good for us or not since we all feel so out of control.

So what am I really saying is that I think the whole pandemic has provided us with a view into how quickly everything can go wrong with misleading information. It has showed us how forced panic is not the way to go to convince people to follow guidelines. It has showed us that leaving people to their own devices without clear communication leads to nothing but chaos. It has showed us that when we come at people from all sides with negative and oppressive tactics, we don’t even allow them the opportunity to make good decisions. We have got to get it together and do things and think things based on actual facts and reintroduce common sense into this global scenario. Otherwise, we are just not going to make it through this.

Hang in there.

Dr. Katz

I am so over being productive.

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This whole pandemic has definitely been a test of strength, fear, ingenuity, and self-direction. Ever since that fateful day in March when the governor issued the stay-at- home order, life has changed. I have to admit that initially I mentally greeted the stay-at- home order with a positive spirit and a can-do attitude. I got creative at home. I spent more time with my kids. I told myself that having less patients meant more ME time that I could do with as I pleased. I cleaned rooms and reorganized, creating soothing spaces for each of my family members. I tried to read more. I tried to get to each and every project that had been hanging over my head..sometimes for years I spent more time with all of our pets… probably too much so for my dogs’ liking. I think they have not been on their recommended nap schedule for months. My overzealous attempts to lavish them with affection 24 hours a day amd dress them.in ridiculous outfits seem welcome on the surface, but I think they are just humoring me. They would really rather be getting their 15 plus hours of sleep a day. Or, they are just too tired to fight me over dress up time…lol.

I have a vegetable garden for the first time in years. I was always too afraid that I would mess up the over the top landscaping the previous owners put in. Now, I have thrown caution to the wind and dared to add my own accents and a raised garden on our deck. This is all fine a good until I eventually get to return to a regular office schedule and have to rely on my 16 year old to water it.

Once the back and forth conflicting executive orders stabilized, we were able to enjoy our quaint little cottage as well. By little I literally mean small..800 square feet. It is not a clever euphemism. It is our little patch of Heaven. I literally find my mood magically transformed just by getting in the car to go there. That is the special magic that it has. Despite the close quarters, I think we all get along just a little better when we are there.

All these things sound great….and they are, but they don’t paint the whole picture of pandemic life. The work side is crazy, but maybe not in the way that you would think. I am either at the hospital 4 hours or 25 hours and everything in between. Between asymptomatic carriers and everyone else, we are potentially exposed every day without knowing it. We dutifully take all precautions daily. I take note of all the accolades for front line workers and sing their praises also. I think that people only think of frontline workers as those in the ER or in the ICU, but truly they are everywhere. We need to recognize that. The frontline is potentially everywhere.. That’s why we all need to do our part. Please do not misunderstand. Clearly those working with the sickest of patients deserve the lion’s share of the praise. Those situations are by far the scariest. I just mean that all of us in Healthcare or in any situation that deals with the public are facing risks as well.

The office is stressful not just because of potential exposures. It is also stressful because of lack of activity. Arbitrary decisions by outside forces have attempted to render me non-essential, therefore driving patients away from my practice. I can barely fill two days of office per week but spend my days not in the office answering patient questions and offering reassurance. I spent a lot of time on social media, trying to offer support and reaffirm my presence for patients and friends. I also try desperately to come up with that perfect ad that straddles the line between reassuring and tacky to remind people to please start utilizing my business when it’s allowed. My goal is to not only survive this virus but also the potential economic ruin it leaves ( or at least the government leaves) in it’s wake.

I feel for every small business out there. I am an independent business person as well. There is no hospital backing or unemployment for me to fall back on. I have one business at 0 percent since March and one business at 20 percent. It won’t be enough if we have to hold back much longer. And yet, some equipment lenders still want their blood from this turnip. It’s as if threatening me will magically add some numbers to the zero in my bank account so that I can immediately give it to them. Go ahead. Knock yourself out I guess. I feel like a worldwide pandemic with a side of economic ruin is a legitimate excuse as any for not being able to pay all your bills right now, but who am I to say? I mean, that one has to rank pretty high up there, doesn’t it? I didn’t make it up. I am not that creative. I get it, they want their money too. However, I feel like their millions and billions of dollars in potential resources just might allow them to hold out a bit longer than I can.

I am not ready to give up. On the contrary. I am ready to snap my fingers and have this be all over. I want my staff back in the office every day, but I can’t blame them for enjoying their unemployment and I can’t blame them for not being cognizant of all of the potential overdue projects spinning around in my head if I don’t tell them. It’s just that sometimes I run out of energy to keep fighting to keep myself and everybody else motivated to keep going. I get tired of fending off everyone’s misdirected frustrations. Sometimes the perceived uneven pressure seems unfair. Sometimes I get resentful and childish and decide that no one understands like I do the potential full ramifications of this pandemic. This is ridiculous and egocentric thinking of course, but I fall prey to it from time to time. Those are the days that I find myself completely “over it” and absolutely done with coming up with new business survival ideas. Those are the days when I am definitively uninterested in being productive or putting on a brave face. Those are the days when the weight of the entire world seems to be on my proverbial back.. I feel the urge to pout or cry or yell and let the cork that is barely holding my emotions in to go flying. Sometimes the tears just start coming and I cannot stop them. Then, when it is just about too late, I stop and check myself. It really is no one’s job but mine to worry about my business or my future and it is unfair of me to even expect other people or employees to help carry the weight of all my worries. It just doesn’t work that way. I just have to figure it out myself…..and I will. This thing is NOT going to get me. Have a fantastic day!

Dr. Katz

The Art of Slogging

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OK, now that I have your attention. What the hell is slogging? The word slog is a verb meaning to work hard over a period of time. It also means to hit forcefully and typically wildly, especially in boxing. For the purposes of this blog, we are going to stick with the first definition. Personally, I also find the word imbued with a trace of difficulty or struggle as well, as if the work being done is innately more challenging than usual and that more effort is required. I also think that it implies a certain lack of joy in the task to be completed. Even the word itself has a heaviness to it, at least mentally and emotionally. I don’t find myself using it unless I am referring to a state in which I am struggling to get the basic requirements completed day to day. One final potentially positive component of the word slog is the implication of a necessary process, like slogging to get somewhere.

I think that this word perfectly describes the world at large today with all of the changes in restrictions, work environments, and day to day life. The level of unpredictability and the lack of control has brought out the worst in some and brought out the best and most altruistic in others. I even find myself struggling to get up, get dressed, and get psyched up to face the day, not knowing if I am going to be at the hospital for 25 hours or 4 hours, or if anyone is even going to show up. It is a conscious, sometimes burdensome mental effort to go to work and strive each day. This is by no means a reflection of how much I love my job. I LOVE MY JOB. I always will. I LOVE MY PATIENTS. I am grateful to even have a job. I have always embraced the role of the uplifting, caring, compassionate superhero to women. It’s my favorite thing in the whole world to help save someones life, make it better or bring new life into the world. It’s just that the positive level of variety that first attracted me is not the same. The variety I now encounter has more to do wondering who if anyone is going to show up on a given day. On top of that, my hands are tied with regard to what services I am ALLOWED to provide for patients. Some of the best aspects of my job in terms of preventative care and early diagnosis are severely limited right now because I do not have a crystal ball to predict what a patient needs without a procedure, exam or surgery. It is very frustrating to go to work every day knowing that I am not able to give patients everything they need. I worry every day about what I am potentially missing because of these limitations. Last, but not least, let’s not forget the mental burden of economic insecurity. There is no unemployment for bosses and business owners. There are some loans with a mountain of paperwork and extensive stipulations, but even those have no guarantee of ensuring the survival of your business of 20+ years. There you go, slogging at it’s best. I am getting through every day and working hard, but it is a struggle and the joy factor is more limited, not because I don’t love what I do, but because I am not allowed to completely do what I do. And yet, I keep slogging away in order to be able to eventually get back to running my practice as I see fit.

I get the same kind of feeling at home too. Most days, I manage to get myself motivated to at least attempt a project that has been hanging over my head( sometimes for years) and then other times I feel like I would rather scream than clean one more thing and I just don’t feel like doing anything. The difficulty rating of just going to the store has now been elevated to a ten out of ten between masking, gloving, making lists and figuring out a strategy to get the most with the least trips, knowing that I might not leave the house for an errand for another few weeks at best. Then there is the daily feeling hanging over your head that leaves you wondering if this truly is the new normal? On top of that is the constant barrage of input from all directions of conspiracy and control theories that only serve to add to the overall panic and disrupt any logical progression of thought. You cannot get away from them. You turn off the news and they appear on you social media instead. You turn away from social media and just listening to music and your broadcast is interrupted with another update. Whew! It’s a bit much. Again, slogging at it’s best. But, right now, there is no other choice. I have to keep slogging through on my way back to the way things used to be. It’s part of the process right now. It’s part of the process of doing my part in order to flatten the pandemic curve. If I quit or rebel, I am not making anything go any faster. Maybe if we all slog together, we may just get to the end of this thing a little faster. Let me leave you with this quote from Walter Annenberg, philanthropist, businessman, and ambassador:

” I want to remind you that success in life is based on hard slogging. There will be periods when discouragement is great and upsetting, and the antidote for this is calmness and fortitude and a modest yet firm belief in your competence. Be sure that your priorities are in order so that you can proceed in a logical manner, and be ever mindful that nothing will take the place of persistence.”

Dr. Katz