The shaking and chattering of my teeth stopped, for now. The beating of the drum inside my head remains, pressing into my eyes and piercing the tip of my nose. Breathing is more accessible now, that is, until I walk around thinking I am better. The coughing consumes all my energy, the room spins, and it is time to lie down. I am so sick of lying down! Seriously, we are in year four of this "pandemic" that I had avoided all this time. To be clear, I avoided illness, not controversy, not pain, not suffering, not anger, not disbelief, not political division, or the splitting of humanity.
I sit at my computer, well enough to write between the coughing spells, with a different perspective. How did a single virus cause so much pain and division worldwide? How can those who never got sick be angry at those who did get sick or helped others while they were sick? I understand we want this virus to go away and that we are tired of hearing about it, but when people are suffering in general, we must remain empathetic and humble.
This writing is not about Covid-19. As a healthcare worker for the past 27 years, I have witnessed multiple diseases and illnesses that have torn people apart. Human suffering makes us reliant, lost, scared, and vulnerable. The solution is not political nor ideological. The answer is how another human decides to treat you. It is easier when others have had similar experiences and exhibit empathy, but what if they have never had an experience like yours? Does that give them the right to downplay your experience, suffering, and situation? Does the world need to have a similar experience to practice empathy?
I was so excited that I rearranged my entire living room. The flat-screen television looked terrific on the wall facing the north side of the room. We turned the couch around, and suddenly, the room transformed. We were ready to watch the big game. This was special for me. Yes, my San Fran 49ers were in the Super Bowl, but my dad would watch the game with me. We haven't watched the big game together in over 20 years. It was February 2, 2020. Every time I walk into my living room, I am reminded of that divisive night. I wish the biggest tragedy that night were how the 49ers blew it in the fourth quarter. As my dad routed for the chiefs to spite me, our back-and-forth banter stopped. The news interruption grabbed my attention as my father asked, "What does that mean?"
The pandemic magnified the cracks in our healthcare system. Suddenly, the difference of opinion turned into anger and hatred. People believed in science, while others mistrusted those sharing science. As a healthcare worker and leader, all I could do was help humans who were sick. I witnessed a terrible shift in the treatment of healthcare workers by patients, families, and society. Not in my wildest dreams did I imagine this as I sat in my living room watching the Superbowl with my dad. My mind told me we would help people stay safe, figure out a cure, and move forward. We may have beaten the virus, but at what cost?
It pains me when people ask me, "Do you think this virus is real?" or "Yeah, but people weren't that bad. I mean, I wasn't sick." Before the pandemic, people believed others were struggling, sick, and misfortuned with disease and illness. Now, people question if it's made up, inflated, or simply untrue since they are okay. If it didn't happen to me, it must indeed be made up and fake news. I sit at my office after seven days of COVID-19, and I can't help but think, "Did I, too, fall victim to the this is just a bad cold, and we inflated the situation?" Yes, in 2020, it was terrible, and people died rapidly, but now it's better.
It is a strange dilemma to consider. People struggling and who have cancer are real. I don't need to have cancer to feel empathy for those battling the disease. I can use this same analogy for hundreds of diseases. So why did Covid-19 cause so much chaos? Part of me wants to blame all the politicians who, like others, formulated opinions based on their personal experiences. Data was accurate or fake; the treatments work, or they didn't. I could go on and on. This argument was never the case for past diseases. How the hell did Covid-19 get so much power? My theory is that Covid-19 became more than a virus. COVID-19 catalyzed unleashed pervasive bitterness and repugnance that built up for generations.
This may be my Covid brain talking right now, but I can't help but wonder what is next for our society. What will divide us next? How do we get back to humans being kind to humans? Not everyone must suffer to exhibit empathy towards others.