We Breathe It

a pantoum for Jonathan Chan, MD [ October 19, 2021 ]

That’s why I’m here—to help.
In the first wave, everyone was doing their part,
trying to save as many lives as possible.
It was encouraging, you know, the camaraderie 

in that first wave when everyone was doing their part
at the beginning. But moving towards the second wave,
you know, it was discouraging. There was less camaraderie,
and it became much more difficult in New York

than at the beginning. Moving into that second wave,
I was working hard in the ER all the time and, at least for me,
it became much more difficult in New York,
seeing others not really doing their part.

I was working hard in the ER all the time. For me, at least
others could be careful: get vaccinated, avoid super spreader holidays.
That’s what we saw: others not really doing their part.
Patients were drowning—that’s what it’s like, gasping for air—

while others—not careful, not vaccinated—took super spreader holidays 
in Florida. There was a lady in her 90s, multiple risk factors, from a family of doctors.
She came in gasping for air. Drowning, that’s what it’s like. 
And somewhere in there, I got it, too—Covid— 

in Yonkers. There I was, almost 30, minimizing risk factors, a doctor 
suddenly the patient, hospitalized. Someone had to help me drink, walk, breathe. 
And somewhere in Yonkers, I got it, too, Covid, 
doctor-turned-patient. It’s hard to describe: I was privileged in the way others cared 

for me, suddenly the patient in my own hospital. Dependent on others to drink, walk, breathe, 
I saw the world differently. So many levels of caring. In my pain, I was not lonely.
It’s hard to describe. I was privileged in the way others cared for me, the patient. As doctors,
we don’t really talk about the fear, the stress; it’s around us all the time. We breathe it. 

But then, I saw the world differently, understood levels of care. In my pain, I was not lonely 
as so many others are. I wasn’t isolated. And I became a better doctor, began to listen more 
to patients talk about their fear, the stress. Now I breathe in deeply what’s around us, 
like when everyone clapped each night for the health care workers. 

For a moment, none of us were isolated. By listening to others, I become a better doctor. 
Within the same routine of wake, work, sleep, I re-examine what is important. 
I don’t remember when the clapping stopped for the health care workers. 
It doesn’t matter. We move through this world together, make choices. 

Now, I re-examine the same routine of wake, work, sleep; choose what’s most important. 
That’s what I decided. After I survived, I moved away from Yonkers 
to NYC. It matters to be happy moving through this city. Together, our choices 
determine who we are, how we treat others. Now, on days off, I climb rocks. 

That’s what I decided after I survived. When I drive away from Yonkers, 
I’m excited to be outside in the world. If you know what you’re doing, it’s not scary. 
You determine how you treat yourself: equipment, approach. With other doctors, I climb rocks. 
In climbing, there are safety precautions. In that first wave, nobody knew what they were doing. 

It’s exciting now, outside in the world, climbing. If you know what you’re doing, it’s not scary. 
It’s encouraging, you know, the camaraderie, the ability to control danger. 
During the first wave, nobody knew what they were doing. In climbing, there are safety precautions.
You pay attention, help each other up the mountain. 

You know, it’s encouraging—the camaraderie, both facing and letting go of danger. 
Each day, we try to save as many lives as possible. 
We pay attention, guide each other up the mountain. 
That’s why I’m here—to help.

 

MARJORIE MADDOX