life Work

Structure & Survival

March 13, 2020

School is closed. Spring break was slated to start the week after next (3/23), but we didn’t find out until 4:30 pm today that the kids will not be back until further notice. Cameron was happy. Annabel cried.

(She also correctly insinuated that we would have to postpone her birthday party. Poor kid! I promised her we would still do it, just another month, whenever it is safe to do so.)

Work is . . . I don’t know? Obviously, I still have to do the GME part of my job. And I know my residents will need extra guidance now. Though I don’t necessarily need to be physically present IN the hospital to do all of that.

Clinically, our outpatient services have not made any changes yet, which is surprising to me. But maybe they are coming. I am really hoping — for the safety of our patients, staff, and for the collective good! — that we can move some of our care to telemedicine (and postpone non-urgent things). My next call week isn’t until mid-April but obviously if one of my coworkers gets sick (inevitable), I will be helping to fill in.

And you guys, emotionally, I AM REELING. As are many of us, obviously. There’s just so much uncertainty and the fear for older loved ones and the unsettling feeling that everything is different now, with the added layer of worry about when my workplace will become mayhem.

(Hoping not, but what I have read about in Italy with the vent/bed shortages is so heartbreaking. I hope it starts to improve there quickly.)

BUT. All of that said (and it was a little therapeutic, so thanks!), I need to buck up. Because we have 3 kids who will be at home, and they don’t need to remember this time as the era when mommy sat slack-jawed and crying while refreshing CNN every 30 seconds (I mean I’m not there yet but . . . maybe closer than I should be). Because panicking isn’t going to help matters. And because — like it or not — this is life, and the new normal, for a while.

Things I plan on doing:

Posting a lot here. I considered a written journal, but — what is this blog but the longest most elaborate journal ever? Plus there is power in sharing experiences in trying times.

Doing some “projects.” I am going to dive back into my reading list and also am considering just jumping into 80 Day Obsession (I might die, but whatever, I can modify and it would be Something to Accomplish while waiting this thing out)

Cooking more. Maybe we will allow ourselves takeout once in a while, but generally I think that social distancing means hunkering down & cooking most nights. Our nanny will hopefully still be able to come (well, if not, work is going to be QUITE challenging) but it will be all up to me on weekends and during spring break.

Meditating. I think it’s probably a good time to restart this. For many people.

I liked this post a lot, and I need to follow the advice about choosing a structured time to listen to / look at news. Maybe a twice daily check in — morning NPR podcast & one time-limited evening online browse. I also like OMDG’s idea of buying an old school NES. Bring on Dr. Mario . . .


  • Reply Michelle March 13, 2020 at 8:22 pm

    I’ll totally be an 80 day obsession buddy. We are off school until 4/13. And postponing even making an endocrine visit!

  • Reply Kevin March 13, 2020 at 8:26 pm

    I found Elizabeth Gilbert’s IG video profoundly positive during this time…what do you think of her message?

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger March 13, 2020 at 10:00 pm

      I like where she went with it. I also think it’s okay to share some anxieties if we are feeling them. I’ve also felt pressure to try to help others understand the gravity of the situation (in real life, not the blog) bc to me it seemed like so many people were just ignoring what was happening elsewhere. But now that I think most people understand you’re right – time to be more calm and positive. Will keep that in mind in my professional interactions especially.

  • Reply Alyssa March 13, 2020 at 8:38 pm

    I feel you! I posted a little update about things here in Canada but being a primary care provider is not my favourite these days. I’ve really felt that maximally stepping away from my phone/the news/the radio has helped. And hey- I’m caught up on BoBW! I’ve tried to do things that feel good and within my control- use more telemedicine, eat really healthily, and prioritize sleep. I *may* have busted out the critical care medicine textbook for a minute but also decided I needed to put that away! Sending good thoughts!

  • Reply DVStudent March 13, 2020 at 10:28 pm

    We got an email at 4:40 today that they canceled clerkships for all med students. When we all had 1 week left. I’m doing my best to keep thinking of the greater good, but naturally, my mind is going to ‘my schedule was basically immutable and now I have to plan worst case scenario, and I will not live in this godforsaken part of the country for a single month more than I have to because of coronavirus.”

    So yeah, I’m not doing well. I’m heartbroken about not finishing up on peds, I’m so worried about whether this clerkship ban will extend into May, in which case, my sub-I is gone, and then I feel like a jerk because people are ACTUALLY dying and who are at risk of losing wages, and this is just awful. And I have a 90 year old GF and 80+ year old great aunts overseas and I’m just going to be crushed if this is the reason I won’t be able to see them after I Match next year. I’m also living in temp housing because my apartment is being gutted, so that’s also just not helping my mood.

  • Reply Melissa March 13, 2020 at 10:28 pm

    Just wanted to let you know how much I enjoy reading your blog, generally, and these posts particularly. I am looking forward to reading updates over the next few weeks. It is reassuring to know you have similar reactions as us up here in Toronto (our schools are now closed too). It would also be great to pool ideas on keeping kids entertained while working from home!

  • Reply Sarah March 14, 2020 at 3:08 am

    We’re pulling out our NES this weekend (thanks MIL for saving it)! Just need to figure out the adapter situation…

  • Reply Klara March 14, 2020 at 6:56 am

    Thank you for this post! Great ideas and love your attitude to the situation

  • Reply Lisa of Lisa's Yarns March 14, 2020 at 7:07 am

    Oof, that is a long time for schools to be cancelled. I feel for parents who will need to stop working or scramble to find help to care for their children. I know it’s a necessary precaution but man it complicates things for alot of people. I hope your nanny can continue to come and help out with the kiddos.

    We have 14 cases in MN and it its definitely on an exponential growth trajectory. We are behind the coasts, though, so I am hoping these cancellations/extra precautions slow the spread of the virus. I am a bit on edge since I am high risk but also trying to balance worrying with living life… I am working from home through at least 4/12. It’s not ideal but I am glad I have the option to WFH. My whole company will be WFH for the next month – I am sure it will slow productivity, but that’s life.

    Thanks for sharing here. I always appreciate how ‘real’ you on your blog!

  • Reply Elizabeth March 14, 2020 at 7:10 am

    Here’s my question: with social distancing we can still go on hikes and solo runs outside? The goal is not to quarantine ourselves (if we are healthy) but to limit contact with others. I’m still planning on going outside with my kids- I think it’s essential for our mental health. Curious to hear what your thoughts are here.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger March 14, 2020 at 10:57 am

      Sure, why not? At least that’s my non expert opinion from what I have been reading. I just took the kids on a walk around the block. We didn’t see anyone else. They didn’t touch any communal surfaces (ie no playground, benches, etc). Running alone should be fine (maybe avoid an urban area where you would have to press a button on a traffic light!).

      • Reply Gillian March 14, 2020 at 3:50 pm

        Actually outside is a great place to be. UV light is great at killing germs on surfaces. Plus, as you say, there are big mental health benefits. Part of my home school schedule includes getting my kids outside for at least an hour daily. We also have some state parks that won’t be crowded and offer a change if scene.

        • Reply GEM March 14, 2020 at 7:21 pm

          Our provincial medical officer of health (in BC, Canada), who I admire A LOT, told people yesterday to get outside. Get fresh air. Go skiing. So I would surmise that going out for a run, getting into a forest, beach etc are all good things for us physically and mentally.

          • Christen March 15, 2020 at 3:19 am

            Hello from northern Italy! If it’s any comfort in terms of official rules, I confirm that even here, where a lot of fairly significant restrictions are already in place, we are officially still allowed to go outside for “physical activity”, to quote the Ministry of the Interior website, provided that we maintain a distance of 1 meter from other people. Since, aside from that, we’re only allowed out for groceries and going to work if we absolutely can’t WFH, that daily walk/bike ride goes a long way towards preserving sanity!

  • Reply A. March 14, 2020 at 8:05 am

    Italy: China already send a lot of medical aid, respirators and masks to them one day ago, so it will help a lot I suppose.
    And I will cook all our meals, I cannot be assure that a person in a restaurant is responsible like I am with hands washing and all. Sad a bit for restaurants et service people… but will make up for it after. And cooking with kids will be a great activity everyday.

  • Reply Rkk March 14, 2020 at 2:50 pm

    I was also extremely stressed out by the situation; it really helps to hear your feelings about it. I started 21 Day fix because having control over something (and putting a giant red X through a workout everyday) makes me calmer and helps me feel productive. Our schools just closed here in Ontario and most offices, including mine, have moved to a WFH situation for the next 30 days. I was very stressed out about it, but now I am seeing it as imposed family time and truthfully am kind of looking forward to a break. We just went for a long walk outside, saw neighbours out and about, played at the playground, went to the shops. We sued hand sanitizer and washed our hands, but honestly – the idea of going out and not touching anything feels apocolyptic and just too much.

  • Reply Sara B. March 14, 2020 at 4:00 pm

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, and for the space to vent. (I took myself off most social media last week – too much.) The overall anxiety level feels so much worse than usual – even for someone like me who doesn’t spend much time worried. I think it’s harder, in part, not knowing how long it will be before we can go back to “normal.” I’ve been lucky to have been off work this week (ER MD) aside from all the emails about testing updates and guidance and PPE changes and what usual care should be avoided for suspected patients. I feel stressed because I know we are going to be so busy – at some point the disaster tents will go up for additional space / patient screening, and we’ll need more staffing for that. Inevitably people will be quarantined and need their shifts covered. About 1/3 of my partners are >60, and we’ll have to deal with that. Hopefully my nanny (also >60, and very worried) will be willing to work more than usual and this won’t be our breaking point. My extra-backup plan is always to fly my mom in, but my 89-year old grandma is home with her, so that’s a no-go, and my backup babysitters mostly work at the hospital. Which is running low on PPE that I will inevitably need. We are doing tele-conference, and I’m trying to decide if we are cancelling small-group hands-on learning sessions. At this point, I’m hoping my outpatient radiologist husband’s work will shut down (otherwise he has to go in to cover in case of contrast reactions) so that I won’t be stretched thin at work and at home more than I already am, but it’s unlikely. We will have to postpone Grandma’s 90th birthday party – on one hand she’s doing very well despite her incurable ovarian cancer, but I’m scared we’ll put it off too long. And being stuck at my parents home when she’d rather be out enjoying things is hard for her. It’s just a lot. So I bought shoes. And I need to buy a nice bathrobe so I can do the whole disrobe-in-the-garage thing for my family. And I cancelled non-essential appointments for some space in my schedule. And I’m going to go do a GIANT, much-needed weekly review so I know what else needs covered.
    Again, thanks for the space to think about all this!

  • Reply Amanda March 14, 2020 at 7:26 pm

    I’m emotionally and geographically right here with you! <3 And I agree fitness really helps. I'm walking as much as I can. It's something that makes me feel like myself (i.e., normal). I have the option to work from home. I'm playing it by ear. We're already a spacious for 7 people, germ-phobic environment.

  • Reply Greta March 14, 2020 at 7:40 pm

    Sending a hug from Hong Kong! We have been in this situation since end of January and kids will be out of school until at least April 20. It gets better.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger March 14, 2020 at 8:52 pm

      Your country has done SO well – I admire you all!!!! If 3 months of this is what it takes, I’m game!

  • Reply rose March 15, 2020 at 2:51 pm

    Your opinion about house cleaners coming? Going to haircuts/dentist/routine but delay-able doctor appointments? How about ballet classes or enclosed gyms? All groups of over 100 are now forbidden where I am. Restaurant type places very worried they will be closed soon, even for only take out/delivery. I agree playground equipment needs to be assumed to be virus covered. All indoor places like museums, libraries here are shut. I expect movie theaters to be shut not just limited to under 100 in audience. Public schools are distributing homework material for between 2-4 weeks of work depending on how long the k-12 classrooms are assuming they will be shut.
    Yes! Social distance means no playdates … and my goodness are parents reluctant to comprehend that one! (Teens are also absolutely objecting to that truth.)
    Thank you for telling how your family is dealing with all this. Helps.

    Here’s huge hope the curve gets flattened!

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger March 15, 2020 at 5:09 pm

      Those first few things are harder. Like … though I think fitness classes or ballet are bad. Many bodies in one place, lots to touch, etc.

      Other interactions that are 1:1 seem less clear. The most conservative would say skip but our office (as of now) is still open even for non urgent visits. Might change though … I think if clinic becomes emergency only I would take that to basically mean don’t do anything “voluntary”

  • Reply Tyra March 16, 2020 at 12:25 am

    It still feels pretty surreal here. It’s still business as usual (schools still open, no assemblies but otherwise everything else there is normal), but the cases are really starting to role in. My husband has had a beard for years, he shaved it off yesterday so that his PPE fits properly because he is now officially seeing confirmed cases. It feels like it’s inevitable that he (and us) will get it, but he doesn’t think we need to avoid contact with grandparents etc yet. The cases here are still people coming from O/S so he has said that the advice will change really quickly once person to person local contact is occurring.
    My disaster prepping involves buying some cheap sporting equipment for the kids so that they have some new (and novel) toys to play with when we get to the point of being stuck at home! I’m glad we have a backyard for them…

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